There have been many studies into the long-term effects of concussion; after studying professional boxers, it was found repeated concussions can lead to a form of dementia known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). However it is unclear whether mild traumatic brain injury or concussion also increases this risk.
In this study, scientists at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) looked at MRI images of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans’ brains, and measured the thickness of the cerebral cortex in the seven regions first to show atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease. They then compared the measurements of those who’d experienced concussion with those who hadn’t.
“We found that having a concussion was associated with lower cortical thickness in brain regions that are the first to be affected in Alzheimer’s disease,” explains corresponding author Jasmeet Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System. “Our results suggest that when combined with genetic factors, concussions may be associated with accelerated cortical thickness and memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease relevant areas.”
Significantly, these brain abnormalities were found in a relatively young group, with the average age being 32 years old.
“These findings show promise for detecting the influence of concussion on neurodegeneration early in one’s lifetime, thus it is important to document the occurrence and subsequent symptoms of a concussion, even if the person reports only having their “bell rung” and is able to shake it off fairly quickly, given that when combined with factors such as genetics, the concussion may produce negative long-term health consequences,” says Hayes.
The researchers hope others can build upon these findings to find the precise concussion-related mechanisms responsible for accelerating the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s and others.
“Treatments may then one day be developed to target those mechanisms and delay the onset of neurodegenerative pathology,” she adds.