Kristine Yaffe Many new cases establishing a link between brain injuries and dementia seem to have surfaced for professionals of late. A study conducted by scientists at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has unfolded that patients who suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI) seemingly develop a doubled risk of dementia within a 7 year span from the time of diagnosis. This was supposedly not the case with those who did not have the aforesaid condition.

The study involved nearly 281,540 veterans aged 55 or older who were taken care by the VA from the period of 1997 to 2000 and also did not have any apparent history of dementia. It was revealed that 15% of the participants who were tested positive for TBI seemingly developed dementia by 2007. On the other hand, only 7% of those who were not diagnosed with the latter developed dementia. Even though other variables like age, medical history and cardiovascular health were taken into account, the result still seemed to be the same.

“This finding is important because TBI is so common,” remarked senior investigator Kristine Yaffe, MD, chief of geriatric psychiatry at SFVAMC and professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at UCSF.

She said that TBI is alternatively called the ‘signature wound’ of the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it leads to almost 22% of casualties overall and harms up to 59% percent of army men exposed to blasts. According to Dr Deborah Barnes the study is inclusive of different kinds of TBI such as intra-cranial impairments, concussion, post-concussion syndrome and skull fracture.

Speculations were rife to gauge the possible reasons for the growing risk of dementia. It was found that the most probable cause is the diffuse axonal injury or swelling of the axons that hook up the neurons in the brain. Yaffe says that the swelling develops along with collection of proteins that includes beta-amyloid which is the highlight of Alzheimer’s disease. He further added that loss of axons and neurons is linked to early manifestation of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

The scientists believe that the age of the veteran is also an essential factor for different implications. Older veterans with a particular head injury should be observed for any signs of dementia. If such symptoms are seen then the treatment ought to begin soon. Alternatively, younger veterans who are exposed to earlier intervention and rehabilitation may help prohibit dementia in the long run.

The findings were presented at the 2011 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Paris, France.