Head injuries can have 'physical link to dementia'

Brain scan of a person with Alzheimer's The study suggests a brain injury can spark a process in which the brain is damaged in other ways

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Research carried out in Scotland and the US has established a link between a single head injury and dementia.

The study was done by researchers at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and the University of Pennsylvania.

It is thought to be the first to find a physical abnormality in brain tissue of people who have had head injuries.

A link had previously been established between dementia and sports which involve repetitive blows to the head.

These contact sports include boxing and football.

Further studies have also shown a similar link with people who have had other kinds of head injury.

Dr William Stewart, who led the team in Glasgow, said: "We know from clinical studies that there's a link between sustaining a head injury and developing dementia, and what we're interested in is trying to understand what might be happening in the brains of these patients."

Brain abnormalities

Researchers examined brain tissue from 39 people who had recovered from a brain injury, and 39 people who had never had a brain injury.

They found abnormalities in one third of those who had had a head injury.

Start Quote

Part of the challenge in dementia is that a lot of the work we do is with people who already have it”

End Quote Dr William Stewart

Dr Stewart said: "What's quite remarkable, and causing much excitement, is that the patients who'd had a head injury had quite large numbers of proteins - or abnormalities - in their brain.

"That's very similar to what we'd see in older patients and, in particular, people with Alzheimer's, yet these patients were in their 40s and 50s and the only thing which marked them apart from the control group was that they'd had a head injury."

More than 150,000 people in the UK suffer a head injury every year.

This study suggests a brain injury can spark a process in which the brain is damaged in other ways.

Dr Stewart hopes that this will lead to further research that could reveal how and why dementia develops.

He explained: "Part of the challenge in dementia is that a lot of the work we do is with people who already have it.

"What we don't understand is how they get to that stage and what sets off the process in their brain. What we might be able to do is study patients after a head injury and work out what's happening inside their head."

It is hoped that learning more about this process could lead to new and better treatments for dementia.

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