Study Finds Similar Affects of Head Trauma and Alzheimer’s Disease On The Brain

The long-term effects of head trauma appear to impact the brain in the same way as Alzheimer’s disease, according to the findings of a new study.

In findings published late last month in the medical journal GeroScience, researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) report that individuals who suffer even a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) show signs of similar damage to parts of the brain as Alzheimer’s disease patients, particularly when it comes to memory and executive function.

The study focused on determining how brain injuries affect white matter and gray matter in the brain, and then comparing the findings to Alzheimer’s disease brain patterns. The researchers looked at 33 mild TBI patients, 66 Alzheimer’s patients and 81 healthy controls.

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Researchers identified substantial similarities in the regional macro scale neurodegeneration patterns associated with mild traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease.

“The spatial pattern of cerebral white matter degradation observed in Alzheimer’s disease is broadly similar to the pattern of diffuse axonal injury observed in TBI which frequently affects white matter structures like the fornix, corpus callous, and corona radiata,” the researchers wrote. “These findings suggest that acute post-traumatic cognitive impairment predicts the magnitude of Alzheimer’s disease-like brain atrophy, which is itself associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk.”

TBIs are often followed by persistent structural brain alterations and by cognitive changes, including memory problems, reduced processing speed, impaired social function, and decision-making difficulties.

Concussion is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, however the similarities in brain changes have not been studied before. Prior research has shown even one mild blow to the head can lead to Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

More than 1.7 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year. Suffering a traumatic brain injury can lead a wide range of serious health consequences including suffering increased risk of depression. More than half of all people who suffer a head injury will become depressed and faced an increased risk of committing suicide.

Head trauma patients are nearly twice as likely to die from an unintentional injury. Furthermore, those who suffer TBIs face a risk of premature death three times higher than the average person. Head injuries also increases a person’s risk of developing dementia later in life.

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