Abuja - Older military veterans who have suffered a serious head injury are
more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than uninjured veterans,
according to a new study.
The report looked at traumatic brain injury (TBI), which includes concussions, skull fractures and bleeding inside the skull.
have been a fair number of previous studies that have looked at the
relationship between TBI and risk of dementia, and some have found an
association while others haven't," said lead author Deborah E. Barnes,
from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco
Veterans Affairs Medical Center
and her colleagues sought to clarify the relationship by taking into
account other conditions, like depression and post-traumatic stress
"And we found that, even after accounting for
these other factors, older veterans with a history of TBI were 60
percent more likely to develop dementia," Barnes told Reuters Health in
Dementia affects 5 percent of people in their 70s and 37 percent of those in their 90s, according to past research.
the new study, the researchers examined the medical records of more
than 188,000 U.S. veterans ages 55 and older who had undergone a medical
evaluation between 2000 and 2003 and did not have dementia at the time.
The veterans all visited the doctor again at least once between 2003 and 2012.
to their records, 1,229 of the veterans had been diagnosed with TBI.
Between 2003 and 2012, 196 of those with a history of TBI developed
dementia, or 16 percent, compared to 18,255 of the veterans without TBI,
or 10 percent.
Veterans with TBI also developed dementia an
average of two years earlier than those without TBI, according to
results published in Neurology.
"Of course, these numbers reflect
population averages, so there will be many individual veterans without
TBI who develop dementia and many with TBI who don't," Barnes said.
"Having a TBI just increases the risk."
with head injuries in the study were more likely than uninjured
veterans to have other health problems including diabetes, high blood
pressure, depression and PTSD.
"Head trauma is pretty
controversial still," said Dr. Rodolfo Savica of the University of Utah
School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.
"We know it can increase
risk of dementia in the long run, but not everybody who is exposed to
this trauma develops problems," Savica, who wrote an editorial
accompanying the study, told Reuters Health.
Other health issues that exist alongside head trauma are also important, he said.
veterans with TBI were more likely to have diabetes and high blood
pressure as well, this is likely a group that is more prone to disease
or more vulnerable, Savica said.
"We should follow up more
carefully with these people," he said. "Whenever you have additional
(health issues), if you are depressed or have PTSD, you have to tell
Head injuries are common among both veterans and
non-veterans, affecting as many as one in five Iraq and Afghanistan
vets, Barnes said.
with head injuries may be able to lower their risk of dementia by
engaging in physical, mental and social activities, making sure high
blood pressure and diabetes are well controlled and getting treatment
for any mental health conditions such as depression and PTSD, she said.
found that there was an additive relationship between mental health
conditions and head injury, so that veterans who had both of these risk
factors were more likely to develop dementia than those who only had
one," Barnes said.
"In addition, they may be able to lower risk of
dementia by doing their best to minimize future head injuries by doing
simple things to protect their brain, like wearing helmets and seat
belts," she said.
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