Head Injuries Can Come Back to Haunt Us

Caregiver, patient expert

A 62-year-old friend of mine was getting out of bed recently, he fell as a result of a prescription drug side effect that can cause dizziness. He injured himself badly. Part of the injury was because he smacked his forehead and face against a post. While he was worried about the cuts, scrape and bruises, I was worried about a concussion. I was worried about closed head injury. I was thinking of my dad.

Dad suffered a closed head injury during World War II. After coming out of a lengthy coma, he had to learn to walk and talk again. Those of you who read my posts regularly know he had surgery in his later years that backfired and put him into instant dementia.

So, "future dementia" is what pops into my brain whenever I hear of a head injury. I've gotten so I now look back in fear at the times I've bumped my head severely just because I'm klutzy. I look back in fear when I think of the time my young nephew took a direct hit, on the back of his head, from a baseball thrown by his coach. He was hospitalized, but "came out of it fine."

How many of these blows to the head come back to haunt us? An article coming from the Alzheimer Society of Canada is what really got me thinking about this again. Titled "Help reduce your risk of dementia, protect your brain from injury," the article quotes Scott Dudgeon, CEO of the organization.

"Research is finding more and more evidence that there is an increased risk for developing dementia among those who have experienced brain injuries, especially repeated concussions," says Scott Dudgeon, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. "Therefore, no matter what your age, protecting your head is a crucial part of taking care of your brain."

Reading this article reminded me of news about a year ago of NFL wives who are dealing with their aging football player husbands. These men are developing Alzheimer's disease at an alarming rate.

Here on OurAlzheimer's we ran a post titled "The 88 Plan: Dementia and Alzheimer's Care Assistance for 35 ex-NFL Players." From that piece comes this quote:

"In January [2007], a neuropathologist who examined the brain of Andre Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles player who committed suicide last fall at 44, said that repeated concussions had led to Mr. Waters's brain tissue resembling that of an 80-year-old with Alzheimer's disease."

Do we live our lives frightened of doing anything that will bump our heads? Do we keep our children from playing sports or even going to playgrounds? Do we treat ourselves like fragile pots, afraid that if we bump our heads we will sentence ourselves to dementia in our older years?

That, of course, would be impractical for nearly all of us - and boring for most of us (though not for me. I'd have loved to spend my life reading books, but it's hard to make a living doing that).

Obviously, the answer is not to stop living our lives, nor is it to live in fear. However, appropriately fitted bicycle helmets, seatbelts in cars, and appropriate sporting equipment when playing football or anything else that could cause a head injury, only makes sense.

What of my friend who fell because of a drug side effect? Do we wear helmets to bed? Probably not. Life happens. But research such as that being reported by the Alzheimer Society of Canada is heartening. If prescription drugs or alternative therapies can be developed to reduce the risk of permanent injury after a concussion, it could mean a large drop in the numbers of people affected by Alzheimer's disease long after the injury.

A head injury at any age is nothing to take lightly. It may come back to haunt you decades later. My dad's situation was a horrifying example of that. I pray researchers come up with some treatments soon that can nullify the effects of inevitable bumps on the head. We'll all sleep better.

For more information about Carol go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.