Alzheimer’s Disease Linked to Concussions

Alzheimer’s DiseaseA Mayo Clinic study has found that people with a history of serious concussions may find themselves at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease years and maybe decades later. However, this does not mean that anyone with head trauma will also lose their memory.

The Mayo Clinic study in Rochester Minnesota studied the scans of a total of 589 older Minnesota residents. Of those studied, 141 of them had some sort of memory problem. The remaining 448 subjects did not have any signs of memory loss. A cross section of both groups included 17 percent of the patients having suffered brain injuries early on in their life that involved some level of lost consciousness or gaps in memory.

Those that were studied with no memory loss had normal looking brain scans. They showed healthy scans regardless of their former brain injury history. However, scans of subjects with memory loss plus a history of concussions or brain injuries were five times more likely to show early tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s disease. What the Mayo team discovered in the scans was a buildup of protein in the brain that has been known to be linked with Alzheimer’s for a long time now.

The study was published in the journal Neurology on Friday by the Mayo Clinic’s Michelle Mielke, associate professor of epidemiology and neurology. Mielke says that the study looked at people in their 70’s and 80’s who reported head trauma much earlier in their lives. In most of the cases, the head trauma took place 50 or 60 years prior. Most of these brain injuries occurred when the subjects were only adolescents. Doctor’s were scarce back then and only the sickest and the gravely injured had seen a doctor to treat them. Mielke says that many head injuries that occurred back then were probably quite significant injuries.

Alzheimer’s Disease beta amyloid proteins.
Beta amyloid protein buildups in the brain have long been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies similar to the Mayo Clinic’s only used cadavers to study the connection between head injuries and Alzheimer’s. The Mayo study used all the advantages of new modern technology which allowed them to study and measure the buildup of the proteins. The protein that has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease is called beta amyloid.

Richard Lipton is the director of New York’s Montefiore Headache Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Division of Cognitive Aging and Dementia. Lipton says that in his view the Mayo Clinic’s findings are consistent with traumatic brain injuries leading to the accumulation and buildup of beta amyloid and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lipton thinks that more research is now needed to find an explanation of how and why concussions or head trauma does cause these protein buildups in the brain. He went on to say that all the casual links need to be fully explored. Lipton stated and they not only need snapshots but also movies to properly track the brain changes as well as cognitive changes over time.

Lipton made sure the public knew that not all concussions and brain injuries will be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. He said the groups of older adults in the study, both normal and impaired, had the same rate of head injury.

By Brent Matsalla

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