New research presented in July at the Alzheimer’s Association® International Conference 2011 (AAIC 2011) in Paris, France, reports that older war veterans who experience traumatic brain injury show a more than two-fold increase in the risk of developing dementia.
Researchers analyzed medical records of U.S. veterans aged 55 or older who had received medical care through the Veterans Health Administration between 1997 and 2007. The veterans had not been diagnosed with dementia at the start of the study. Scientists then reviewed the database looking for traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases and dementia diagnoses, while looking for an association between the two.
Researchers found that the risk of dementia more than doubled in patients who had suffered a TBI. Veterans who had been diagnosed with a TBI were 15.3 percent more likely to develop dementia over seven years. Those who did not suffer a TBI were far less likely (6.8 percent) to develop dementia, the data showed.
“This issue is important because Traumatic Brain Injury is very common,” said Kristine Yaffe, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, “About 1.7 million people experience a TBI each year in the United States, primarily due to falls and car crashes. TBI is also referred to as the ‘signature wound’ of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where TBI accounts for 22 percent of casualties overall and 59 percent of blast-related injuries.”
Also reported at the conference was a new study which suggests that retired pro football players are at heightened risk for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a subtle form of dementia that is considered a prelude to Alzheimer’s disease.
The preliminary survey study, titled “Characterization of Mild Cognitive Impairment in Retired NFL Players” was based on a series of questionnaires, including a survey given to retired National Football League (NFL) players and their spouses. The questionnaire was an Alzheimer’s screening survey known as the AD8. In total, 513 surveys were returned by both players and their spouses. The players’ average age was 61 years old.
The results of the survey showed that over 35 percent of the retired NFL stars had an AD8 score that indicated a mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a sign of possible dementia. These results are alarming since, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association, 13 percent of American’s aged 65 and over had Alzheimer’s in 2001.
The conclusions are two-fold, according to the study’s lead author Christopher Randolph, PhD, neuropsychologist and clinical professor of neurology from Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. “These findings support the hypothesis that repetitive head trauma from many years of playing Americana football may result in diminished brain reserve, and lead to the earlier expressions of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as MCI and Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Randolph said.
“Increased awareness of the severity and long-term effects of concussions is vital,” stated Ilyas Akbari, bioengineer and TBI attorney. “The prevention of traumatic brain injuries, especially among our football youth, who unknowingly subject themselves to TBI everyday they’re out on the field, should be a priority. Football helmet manufacturers have a duty to provide the safest helmets possible.”
Two-time Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon along with five other former players and one current player are suing the NFL in Philadelphia over the league’s handling of concussion-related injuries, the first potential class-action lawsuit of its kind. The suit accuses the NFL of negligence and intentional misconduct in its response to the headaches, dizziness and dementia that former players have reported.