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Can Brain Injuries Cause Dementia?

By: Allan M. Siegel

Researchers are beginning to more fully understand the long-term effects caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Researchers found that in some NFL players a TBI or multiple TBI's resulted in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease which we have discussed in a previous blog. The spotlight on this issue sparked other researchers to take up the matter. A recent study by Deborah Barnes, a professor from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, found a correlation between military veterans who experienced a brain injury and dementia.

Brain Injury and Dementia

The study evaluated 190,000 veterans starting at 68 years of age, who did not show any symptoms of dementia. The study found that 10% of veterans who had never experienced a brain injury developed dementia, while 16% of veterans who had experienced a brain injury developed dementia. A second finding was that veterans who had suffered a brain injury also experienced an accelerated onset of dementia. These veterans with brain injuries experienced the onset of dementia at 78, while those without brain injuries did not experience the onset of dementia until 81. Among the veterans with brain injuries who had also experienced PTSD or depression were even more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers were not able to identify a causal link between brain injuries and dementia, but the correlation clearly needs further study. Professor Barnes has two theories for further exploration. She believes that when the brain suffers a "hit" its ability to repair and rebuild is diminished. Her second theory is similar to the findings in CTE, that a buildup of tau in the brain causes a degeneration of the brain tissue. While this study exclusively focused on veterans, the implications are that anyone who has suffered a brain injury, sometimes called a concussion, is a greater risk for dementia with an accelerated onset. Our personal injury lawyers represent many clients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, and we often work with medical professionals to understand the risks and effects, both long-term and short-term, that our clients may face. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Washington DC personal injury lawyers to discuss your injury.