Hit by Dementia on the Battlefield

Last year, I reported on the correlation between traumatic brain injury and dementia.  Specifically, I linked to a study that found that those with a TBI had a 4.5 percent greater risk of dementia (in some studies, this percentage is a bit lower).  While terrible, that was not a complete surprise, when one is referring to moderate and severe brain injuries.  (The report that found that mild TBI is not so mild for the elderly is upsetting, but not unbelievable.)  However, since that time, government-funded studies, as well as other studies, have broadened that research and discovered that even a mild brain injury without loss of consciousness (loc) can more than double one’s chance of developing dementia, no matter what age that person is when that mTBI occurs.  A study of more than 350,000 veterans found that those who had a mild TBI, a single jolt to the head, without loc had a 2.36 percent greater risk of developing dementia.  For those in the study who had a mild TBI with loc, there was a 2.51 percent higher risk of developing dementia, not that much higher.

“One working theory is that somehow these injuries either cause an overproduction of normal waste proteins, or make it impossible to clear these proteins,” notes the study.  However, this is just a working theory because no one fully understands how the brain works, or rather why and how it stops working.  Responding to the above studies results, the director of the Army’s traumatic brain injury program questioned, “”Is blast exposure hurting service members or soldiers?  And if it is… how can we modify our equipment or the way we operate to prevent injury?”

Beyond the military, why is the risk of dementia higher after a TBI for working age adults, in general?  Additionally, the NCBI sponsored a nationwide study that found that, “the risk of dementia diagnosis decreased over time after TBI… [but] it was still evident >30 years after the trauma.”  Based on this information, how can we modify our diet, our physical activity, etc., during our TBI recovery and after, to prevent this?  As of now, research on cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia prevention has been “encouraging but inconclusive”.  However, the assumed prevention tactics of cognitive training, blood pressure management (for those with hypertension), and increased physical activity are beneficial regardless.

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