It’s long been speculated that traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can cause dementia disorders later in life. Dementia is a general term for the decline in mental abilities as we age, often resulting in severe interference with daily life. One of the most common types of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, but others can also explain an individual’s decline in memory, thinking, or reasoning skills. Still, there’s no arguing that these dementia disorders can be due to an abnormal change in the brain – or a TBI.

Often, the TBI patients we see here at Grey Matters of Carmel are athletes, victims of car accidents, or people who have fallen and hit their heads, which has resulted in a concussion or more severe brain injury. If not appropriately treated, or if multiple blows to the head are sustained, TBIs increase the risk of dementia-related illnesses later in life. So, here is what you should know.

How are TBIs classified?

When you or your child see a doctor after a jolt or bump to the head, your physician will likely classify the TBI as mild, moderate, or severe. The final diagnosis depends on a few different factors. One thing they’ll consider is whether or not consciousness was lost, how long consciousness was lost, and the severity of your symptoms once consciousness is regained. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, most TBIs will be classified as mild, meaning they don’t threaten your life, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see symptoms arise later days or even years down the road.

Symptoms of a TBI

The symptoms of your TBI depend on its severity, but most people will experience the following within the first 24 hours:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Temporary loss of balance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in emotions or sleeping patterns

Nevertheless, one thing that’s common in all TBI cases is the cognitive changes, often leaving people feeling like they have brain fog, cannot concentrate on simple tasks, and cannot remember simple instructions. This can be extremely frustrating for children as they try to focus in school or participate in after-school activities. In adults, this can lead to less productivity and more irritability at work. Most brain injuries heal within 4-6 weeks, but that’s not always the case.

How TBIs and Dementia are Linked

Over the past three decades, researchers have been trying to link TBIs to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementia disorders. One thing these researchers have been looking for is the protein known as tau. This protein appears in more significant proportions in patients with TBIs than those who have not experienced such trauma. Further studies have found that older adults who had moderate cases of TBIs, such as when playing sports, have a 2.3 times greater risk of developing dementia illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

Other forms of dementia, like CTE, are coming to light and are linked to higher tau levels. These disorders are often associated with contact sports such as football, hockey, soccer, and boxing. Still, it’s important to note that just because you experience a single brain injury does not mean you’ll develop dementia-related illnesses later in life. However, based on findings, repeated head injuries correlate with the risk of developing dementia later in life.

Treatment for TBIs and Dementia

Immediate treatment of a traumatic brain injury usually requires a doctor’s visit or even a short hospitalization, depending on the trauma’s severity. Following that, inpatient rehabilitation and other cognitive treatments such as neurofeedback training can help mitigate the symptoms and the cognitive disabilities that follow. Therapy for dementia disorders varies depending on the type that is diagnosed.

Regardless, Grey Matters of Carmel wants to help. If you’ve suffered a concussion or other traumatic brain injury in the past and feel as though you’re dealing with dementia-related symptoms, migraines, depression, or PTSD, then it’s time to schedule your neurofeedback training session. We’ll take a qEEG of your brain to pinpoint the area of your brain affected and then develop a specialized treatment plan to help rewire the neural pathways causing your symptoms. To learn more, give us a call today at (317) 215-7208.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash