Traumatic brain injuries early in life, such as concussions, may increase the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life, says a study from the University of Texas.
An analysis of more than 2,100 cases found that people who sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI) with loss of consciousness greater than five minutes were diagnosed with dementia on average two-and-a-half years earlier than those who had not experienced TBI.
The new research is the first to use cases of Alzheimer’s confirmed by autopsy to examine the long-term effects of head injuries. Before, the correlation between the two could only be speculated about.
“We need to be aware that brain injury is a risk factor, but parents shouldn’t keep their kids out of sports because they fear a concussion will lead to dementia,” said neuropsychologist Munro Cullum. “This is a piece to the puzzle, a step in the direction of understanding how the two are linked.”
Previous studies reached conflicting conclusions — some reported a history of TBI can accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to nine years, while others reported no relationship between the two. However, those studies used less definitive methods to diagnose dementia, which raises the possibility they included data from patients who didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was published in the journal Neuropsychology.
Recent research at Canada’s St. Michael’s Hospital found that contact sports other than football, such as soccer and basketball, also affect players’ brains. Scientists performed preseason brain scans on varsity athletes who were divided into three types of sports — collision, contact, and non-contact.
Collision sports include football where there is routine, purposeful body-to-body contact. Contact sports, which include soccer, basketball, and field hockey, allow contact, but contact isn’t an essential part of the game. Non-contact sports include volleyball.
Scans found that the brains of athletes who participated in collision or contact sports showed changes to structure and function when compared to those who played non-contact sports, and the amount of changes were greater in people who played sports with a greater risk of body contact.
Study results were published in the journal Frontiers of Neurology.
A 2016 study from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, found that brain changes can be seen in high school football players after only one season.