PHILADELPHIA — Head injuries have become a leading concern in professional sports as many retired athletes point to longterm effects that have hampered their lives. In one recent study, scientists warn that the more head injuries a person suffers, the more likely they are to develop dementia.
Previous research on dementia and traumatic brain injuries suggests that women are at higher risk for dementia compared to men. Additionally, Black populations overall are at higher risk compared to White people. Few prior studies, however, have evaluated for possible differences in associations of head injury with dementia risk by sex and race.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania say a single head injury can lead to dementia later in life, particularly for women. These findings also suggest stronger associations of head injury with the risk of dementia among White people, compared to Black individuals.
‘Prevention of head injury could mitigate some risk of dementia later in life’
The researchers pulled data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, which aimed to uncover links between head injury and dementia over the span of 25 years among a diverse population in the U.S. Previously, statistics on traumatic brain injury have been limited to select populations, such as military and medical claims databases. The new findings are among the first to specifically investigate head injury and dementia risk in both Black and White groups, as well as among both men and women, in a community-based setting.
Findings show that, compared to participants who never experienced a head injury, a history of a single prior head injury increases one’s chances for dementia by 1.25 times. A history of two or more prior head injuries was associated with more than double the risk of dementia compared to individuals without a history of head injury. Overall, 9.5% of all dementia cases in the study population could be attributed to at least one prior head injury.
“Head injury is a significant risk factor for dementia, but it’s one that can be prevented. Our findings show that more head injuries are associated with greater risk for dementia. The dose-dependence of this association suggests that prevention of head injury could mitigate some risk of dementia later in life,” says lead investigator Dr. Andrea Schneider, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement.
Sex, race play a role
Data from the ARIC study reveals evidence that women were more likely to experience dementia as a result of head injury than men. The study also showed that although there is increased dementia risk associated with head injury among both White and Black participants, this was especially the case for White participants.
Researchers conclude that more research is needed to better understand reasons for the observed sex and race differences in the association of head injury with likelihood of developing dementia.
“Given the strong association of head injury with dementia, there is an important need for future research focused on prevention and intervention strategies aimed at reducing dementia after head injury. The results of this study have already led to several ongoing research projects, including efforts to uncover the causes of head injury-related dementia. Also, we are investigating the reasons underlying the observed sex and race differences in the risk of dementia associated with head injury,” says Dr. Schneider.
“While head injury is not the only risk factor for dementia, it is one risk factor for dementia that is modifiable by behavior changes such as wearing helmets and seat belts,” added Dr. Schneider.
The findings are published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.