There are several known causes for dementia in later life. But there's one cause that you might not have really considered. And for many people, especially those involved in sports or who have had head injuries, this may be a bigger issue than previously thought.
Researchers recently reported on a group of 20 young to middle-aged adults who had suffered at least two sports-related mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs). Why? It's because recurrent mTBIs are regarded as one of the factors for developing dementia in later life. An mTBI is basically defined as having had at least one of the following:
1. Loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes – even if it's just transient.
2. Loss of memory for events immediately before or after the accident.
3. Any alteration in mental state at the time of the accident, for example feeling dazed, disoriented, or confused.
4. A neurological deficit such as memory loss that does not last longer than 24 hours.
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None of the men and women studied had an mTBI within six months of the examinations. The researchers compared this group to another group of the same age and sex without any history of an mTBI. They used MRI scans of their brains to determine the thickness of the cortex of the brain. The cortex is the part of the brain that shrinks as we get older and as dementia develops. Cortical thickness has also been associated with intelligence. Smarter people generally have thicker cortexes. The results are scary.
Even in this group of very young people, the ones with the mTBIs had a significantly decreased amount of cortical brain tissue than the ones without the brain trauma. And the greater the number of mTBIs, the greater the brain tissue loss. The authors said it this way, "Our results suggest persistent detrimental effects of recurrent mTBIs on cortical thickness already in young-to-middle-aged adults. If additional structural deterioration occurs during aging, subtle neuropsychological decline may progress to clinically overt dementia earlier than in age-matched controls." This translates out to the difference between just having the usual Old Timer's symptoms and overt dementia.
So if you had two or more mTBIs in your glory days, you need to be extra careful. It's even more important for you to do what's necessary to protect your brain as you get older than it is for the rest of us. Go to www.cogniciti.com and take the free mental-function test. If you don't test that well, talk with your doctor about getting an MRI of your brain to see if the cortex has thinned out. If you don't have a problem, great. But if you do, at least you can start doing something about it before it's too late.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
List J, Ott S, et al. Cognitive function and brain structure after recurrent mild traumatic brain injuries in young-to-middle-aged adults. Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 May 21;9:228.