Traumatic brain injury (TBI) was found to increase the risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by 24 per cent over a period of 36 years. The risk increase jumps to 60 percent if that injury was in your 20s. But even a single, mild TBI - such as a concussion - was associated with a 17 percent higher risk of dementia.
'There are 850,000 people with dementia - this number is set to rise to 1 million by 2021 and more research is urgently needed to fill the gaps in our understanding of lifestyle factors that increase dementia risk'.
Dementia affects 47 million people worldwide and the number of patients is expected to double in the next 20 years.
Each year, more than 50 million people worldwide suffer a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when a bump or blow to the head disrupts normal brain function. Leading causes include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults.
"TBI was associated with an increased risk of dementia both compared with people without a history of TBI and with people with non-TBI trauma", the authors write.
And, "our findings do not suggest that everyone who suffers a traumatic brain injury will go on to develop dementia in later life", Fann added. Those affected should avoid certain behaviors, researchers suggest. It was increased almost three-fold for people who suffered more than four TBIs. The researchers sought to resolve conflicting findings from previous studies on the link between TBI and dementia.
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However, this study is one of the first to have a sufficient sample size and follow-up period to assess the effect of TBI in younger adults on the long-term risk of dementia.
A link between brain injuries and dementia has been confirmed in a study involving nearly three million people.
The study also found that the younger a person was when they sustained the TBI, the higher their subsequent risk of developing dementia.
Between 1999 and 2013, 4.5 per cent of the study population aged 50 and older were diagnosed with dementia.
Men with TBI histories developed dementia at a 30 percent rate, while women had just a 19 percent rate.
According to Professor Fann, "Shedding light on risk factors for dementia is one of the most important tasks in health research". He warns parents and children to be well-aware of risks of TBIs in contact sports. He added: "This study certainly reinforces the fact that sports in which head injury occurs are risky and may make us susceptible to dementia". This also applies to minor injuries such as a concussion. "The association of TBI with different causes and how these change across time needs policy attention, as it is likely that prevention needs to be considered at societal, community, and local levels".