Study Adds to Evidence Linking Concussions, Alzheimer's Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    We’ve heard a lot this year about the dangers of concussions and dementia as it relates to sports. Whether it’s the National Football League, the National Hockey League or Major League Baseball, the powers-that-be and the athletes themselves are starting to really pay attention to the potential that crushing blows can lead to more far-reaching consequences related to cognitive impairment. Now comes a new study out of the Mayo Clinic that suggests that we should all be worried if we’ve suffered a concussion earlier in life and then develop mild cognitive impairment.


    This study involved 589 participants between the ages of 70-89 who were administered a series of cognitive and memory tests. The participants’ brains also were scanned to look at brain structure and metabolic function. After administering these assessments, the researchers found that 448 participants were cognitively normal while 141 participants had some level of mild cognitive impairment.  

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    The researchers then asked the participants whether they had experienced head trauma at some point during their lifetime and their age when those concussions were experienced. The researchers defined head trauma as “a self-reported brain injury with at least momentary loss of consciousness or memory.” Their analysis of participants’ responses identified a median age of 21 among men as to when they sustained a concussive event. The median age for when women they sustained the concussion.


    Seventy-four (17 percent) of the 448 participants were cognitively normal said they had experienced a head trauma. The researchers then used neuroimaging to look at the brains of these participants. The imaging did not detect any differences between the participants in this group who had suffered a head trauma and other group members who had not.


    The researchers then studied the participants who had mild cognitive impairment. Of those, 25 participants (18 percent) said they had experienced a head trauma. The neuroimaging found that this subgroup had higher levels of amyloid plaque in their brains. Amyloid plaque, which is a fibrous protein, is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease as well as some other neurological disorders.


    The researchers came to the conclusion that participants who have mild cognitive impairment who have experienced a head trauma with at least momentary loss of consciousness or memory were more likely to have greater amyloid deposits. “Researchers suggested that higher amyloid levels within the cognitively impaired group could be a response to a higher level of damage to the myelin coating of the axons of neurons – the brain’s white matter,” a story in the Los Angeles Times reported.


    So what can you do now to protect yourself from concussions? Here are some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

    • Wear appropriate protective gear when you’re participating in sports or other recreational activities. Make sure that all equipment fits properly, is maintained and worn correctly. Follow the rules of the game in order to protect your head.
    • When bicycling, motorcycling, snowboarding or participating in other types of recreational activity that may lead to a head injury, be sure to wear protective headgear.
    • Buckle your seatbelt when you’re in a moving vehicle. This may help you avoid a brain injury if the vehicle is involved in an accident.
    • Take proper precautions around your home. That includes keeping your home well lit and all floor areas free of clutter.
    • Use caution when you’re in and around a swimming area. Do not dive into water that is less than nine feet deep. Also, be sure to read and follow posted safety rules when you’re at water parks and swimming pools.
    • Wear sensible shoes, especially if you’re older. These shoes need to be easy to walk around in. Do not wear high heels, sandals that have thin straps, shoes that are slippery or shoes that are sticky.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


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    Mayo Clinic. (2011). Concussion prevention.


    Mielke, M. M., et al. (2013). Head trauma and in vivo measures of amyloid and neurodegeneration in a population-based study. Neurology.


    Mohan, G. (2013). Concussions liked to Alzheimer’s disease? Los Angeles Times.

Published On: December 28, 2013