Is there a connection between brain injury and dementia? Are there any ways to reduce a person’s likelihood of developing dementia after brain injury?
To answer these questions, we’re looking at the latest research on brain injury and dementia.
We’ll also show you some treatments that can help prevent or at least slow dementia’s progression.
Let’s get started.
Research on Brain Injury and Dementia
Research seems to indicate that brain injury and dementia are somehow linked, though the exact reason behind it remains unclear.
Still, even though we still don’t know why brain injury sometimes leads to dementia, there are some facts we do know.
The following are the major conclusions of several studies on brain injury and dementia.
- The more severe the brain injury, the higher the risk of dementia. One major study in Denmark found that a single moderate TBI increased a person’s chances of developing dementia by 24 percent. And a severe TBI increased by 35 percent. Other studies have made similar findings.
- Repeated mild traumatic brain injury increases your chances of developing dementia. Researchers discovered this fact in the 1920s when professional boxers started showing signs of mental decline after a few years in the ring. Back then it was called dementia pugilistica or “punch drunk” syndrome. Nowadays it’s referred to as CTE.
- A single mild traumatic brain injury rarely leads to dementia. Most of the research out there seems to show that a single concussion will not greatly increase the risk of dementia. However, the study in Denmark did find a connection.
- Traumatic brain injury might trigger Alzheimer’s by releasing a protein. A protein that is found in Alzheimer’s patients, called beta-amyloid, is also released after a severe TBI, which may explain why there’s a connection between brain injury and dementia.
While these facts can look alarming, please remember:
Not everyone who suffers a brain injury, even a severe one, will automatically develop dementia or Alzheimer’s.
TBI only increases your risk of dementia; it doesn’t guarantee it.
Diagnosing Dementia After TBI
Many of the symptoms of dementia, such as memory and concentration problems, are also common traumatic brain injury symptoms.
So even if you display some dementia signs, that doesn’t mean you have it.
If you are concerned, talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a specialist.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia After Brain Injury
There is no surefire way to prevent dementia completely, since most of it depends on your genes.
However, according to the World Health Organization there are steps you can take that help reduce your risk of dementia.
Many of the activities that keep a brain injury from getting worse will also help lower your chances of developing dementia.
Here are the four main ways to reduce dementia risk, according to experts.
1. Stay Physically Active
Physical exercise isn’t just good for your body; it’s also good for your brain!
Low-impact exercise, such as aerobic activity, increases blood flow to your brain. This lets it get more nutrients, which promotes better brain function. It also improves mood and sleep.
But best of all, aerobic activity boosts the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain in charge of memory!
This has huge implications for brain injury patients, since it could prevent memory decline. This also means it might help prevent dementia.
2. Challenge Your Brain
The more your brain is stimulated, the more neural connection it forms.
The more neural connections your brain has, the stronger its cognitive skills become.
So if you want to prevent mental decline, the best thing you can do is to keep your brain active!
Some ways to challenge your brain include:
- Learn a new game like chess or Sudoku
- Try music therapy for traumatic brain injury or learn a musical instrument
- Read at least one novel a month
- Do a crossword puzzle
You should also try to do a few cognitive exercises every day.
Again, the more you keep your brain active, the less likely it is to decay.
3. Be Social
Prolonged social isolation increases a person’s risk of dementia, even if they’ve never had a brain injury.
However, for people with a TBI, the risk is even higher.
It’s hard to beat social isolation though. It seems the longer it lasts, the tighter its grip on you becomes until the very idea of going out sounds terrifying.
Still, it’s crucial to find some activity that gets you in contact with others. Research shows that the most socially active people have the best cognitive function and the lowest risk of dementia.
But how do you socialize when you are isolated? Here are some suggestions:
- Volunteer at your favorite charity
- Try some recreational therapy activities
- Find a brain injury support group
- If you like art, join a painting class
- If you are religious, see if your place of worship has any groups you can join.
- Go to a museum with a family member or friend.
- Join an adaptive sports league
These are just a few ideas to get you started. As long as you are doing an activity that engages you and gets you out of the house, you’ll stimulate your brain and keep yourself from decline.
4. Keep a Healthy Brain Diet
Foods that promote brain function can also reduce your risk of dementia, according to several studies.
The foods that make a good brain injury diet are rich in omega-3 and antioxidants. These include:
- Dark, leafy greens such as kale and spinach
- Fatty fish like salmon and trout
- Unsalted nuts
- Berries, especially blueberries
Brain Injury and Dementia: Conclusion
While there appears to be a real link between brain injury and dementia, this should not cause you to constantly stress about the future.
All you can do is work on what you can change right now.
Stay physically and mentally active. Eat healthily. Socialize with others. This will keep your body and mind in shape, and improve your quality of life.
And who knows? It just might keep dementia at bay.