Traumatic Brain Injury Induced Dementia
Anyone can sustain a traumatic brain injury caused by motor vehicle accidents, sports related head injuries to a rapid shaking of the head and neck. As with other dementia related conditions, the area of the brain impacted by the trauma will create cognitive problems. If an injury that causes the brain to shake inside the skull, the injuries will involve both the site of impact as well as structures on the opposite side; this condition is referred to as “contra cue” damage. The patient can experience a variety of cognitive changes. A person who experiences minimal trauma could suffer from a condition known as ” post-concussion syndrome”. This syndrome could last approximately three months. Eventually, a person suffering this type of syndrome will return to some level of their pre-injury functioning.
Medical researchers have learned that each time someone suffers a blow to the head, the axons in the brain are stretched. Axons are long threadlike parts of a nerve cell along which impulses are conducted from the cell body to other cells. Axon’s are the brain’s communication system and when the axon’s are stretched the inner lining is damaged. This will produce a variety of neurochemical changes. These changes can cause someone to behave differently. They may start to have anxiety attacks, suffer from depression and irritability, suffer from short and long term memory problems and may tire easily. Over time the brain heals and these changes may subside. However, there is a cumulative effect each time a person experiences a blow to the head. These changes can and will contribute to the onset of different presentations of dementia.
Traumatic brain injury induced dementia has received attention in the media due to a group of retired professional football players. These former players have used their notoriety to bring the problem of repeated traumatic brain injuries in sports to the attention of the public. These former players have successfully used the media to spread the word about a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) . They have also brought public awareness to how this type of injury impacts young athletes. Even simple blows to the head do have long term impacts on children and young athletes.
Military veterans have long suffered from traumatic brain injury induced trauma. Unfortunately, this group is often unnoticed. Each group of veterans has their own unique set of problems based on the type of warfare employed and the different types of head injuries sustained by the forms of weapons used. Their external wounds will have visibly healed but the cognitive injuries take months to years to heal – if ever. These cognitive changes are life altering and make a person’s ability to experience the world difficult.
Studies on war veterans and retired professional football players found that both groups are linked to an increased risk for dementia later in life. One startlingly statistic is that veterans who experience combat -related head injuries that range from concussions to severe head wounds are more than twice as likely to develop dementia than non-brain injury counterparts.
Clearly there is mounting evidence that many different groups coping with mild, moderate, and or severe traumatic brain injuries are living with some form of TBI-induced dementia. For those remaining , the likelihood of developing dementia grows over time. As our populations age, we will certainly see more cases emerge.