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Head Trauma That Causes Sleep Disorders May Increase Risk of Dementia: Study

According to the findings of a new study, individuals who suffer a head injury and have a sleep disorder may face an increased risk of developing dementia.

Researchers with the KITE Research Institute University Health Network indicate there appears to be a link between brain injuries which cause sleep disorders, and the development of dementia later in life.

The study was published last month in the medical journal Sleep, involving data on more more than 712,000 patients who were free of dementia when they were admitted to the emergency room or acute care hospital, and were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury between May 2003 and April 2013. All severities of traumatic brain injury (TBI) were included in the study.

According to the findings, 5% of patients, nearly 33,000 in all, developed dementia. However, those who suffered a traumatic brain injury and who had a diagnosed sleep disorder had a 25% increased risk of later developing dementia.

Sleep disorders include conditions like sleep apnea, insomnia, night terrors, sleep walking and narcolepsy.

The study highlights the role brain injury may play as a risk factor for dementia, and the link between sleep disorders and dementia. It also showed there was little difference in the risks based on gender.

“Our study’s novelty is its confirmation of sleep disorders’ association with incident dementia in both male and female patients, independently of other known dementia risks,” lead author Dr. Tatyana Mollayeva, an affiliate scientist at the Kite Research Institute at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, said in a press release. “The strong links to incidence of dementia in both sexes suggest a need for more targeted sleep disorders risk awareness in patients with TBI.”

Prior studies have linked the risk of suffering a head injury and increased risk of dementia later in life. Other studies have also pointed to side effects of antidepressant use and the increased risk of dementia. Many patients with sleep disorders are often prescribed antidepressants off-label to help with sleep problems and anxiety.

The researchers emphasized the need to screen patients for sleep disorders, especially if they have a diagnosed traumatic brain injury of any severity. Undiagnosed sleep disorders can lead to a new set of side effects and concerns for TBI patients.

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