The link between traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease: Scientists have identified a number of risk factors that increase the risk of developing a neurodegenerative condition. Thanks to high-profile cases, such as Muhammad Ali, the general public has a growing awareness of a link between head trauma and Parkinson’s disease (PD).
However, fewer people realize that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is also a predisposing factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Examples of the link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can be found in specific, high-risk populations. Recent studies in retired football players have shown that they have an earlier onset of AD than the general American male population. Some former football players have donated their brains upon their death, and researchers have found cellular changes that mimic those in the brains of elderly patients with advanced AD, a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Other scientists have studied veterans; they found that those veterans who experienced TBI had more than twice the risk of developing symptoms of dementia.
While these are extreme examples from elite athletes and combat veterans, they provide important insight into the development of Alzheimer’s disease in the general population.
The greatest risk is experiencing a severe head injury that results in an extended period of unconsciousness, but evidence also suggests that several smaller traumas can have an additive effect. Even injuries that occurred years or decades earlier can increase the risk of developing dementia, especially if there was a loss of consciousness for several minutes.
Researchers know that even minor trauma can increase in the production of amyloid-beta, the sticky protein fragment that accumulates in plaques in AD brain. They are currently trying to understand why this occurs and if preventing this increase in the production of amyloid-beta will offset the risk of developing dementia later in life.
Geddes, J. F., G. H. Vowles, J. A. R. Nicoll, and T. Révész. “Neuronal Cytoskeletal Changes Are an Early Consequence of Repetitive Head Injury.” Acta Neuropathologica 98.2 (1999): 171-78. Print.
Guskiewicz, K. M., S. W. Marshall, J. Bailes, M. McCrea, R. C. Cantu, C. Randolph, and B. D. Jordan. “Association between Recurrent Concussion and Late-life Cognitive Impairment in Retired Professional Football Players.” Neurosurgery 57.4 (2005): 719-26. Print.
Langlois, J. A., W. Rutland-Brown, and M. M. Wald. “The Epidemiology and Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury: A Brief Overview.” Journal of Head Trauam Rehabilitation 21.5 (2006): 375-78. Print.
Nicoll, James A.R., Gareth W. Roberts, and David I. Graham. “Apolipoprotein E ?4 Allele Is Associated with Deposition of Amyloid ?-protein following Head Injury.” Nature Medicine 1.2 (1995): 135-37. Print.
Schofield, P. W., M. Tang, K. Marder, K. Bell, G. Dooneief, M. Chun, M. Sano, Y. Stern, and R. Mayeux. “Alzheimer’s Disease after Remote Head Injury: An Incidence Study.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 62.2 (1997): 119-24. Print.
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