A single brain injury can increase the risk of developing dementia for the rest of the patient’s life, a major new study has revealed.
The research, published by Imperial College London, shows how ‘protein tangles’ can form after suffering just one head injury.
The scientists looked at 21 patients who had suffered a moderate to severe head injury at least 18 years previously and compared them against 11 healthy individuals.
The team took brain scan images of each of the participants and found that some of the patients who had suffered a brain injury had protein clumps forming in their brain.
Protein clumps, also known as tau tangles, are a hallmark indicator of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, but generally do not develop until later in life.
However, the scientists now believe that just a single brain injury may accelerate the risk of tau tangles forming.
According to the report, this is the first time scientists have seen the protein tangles in living patients who have suffered just one severe head injury, as opposed to multiple sustained brain injuries, such as those observed in football, boxing and rugby.
Commenting on the study, author Dr Nikos Gorgoraptis said: “Scientists increasingly realise that head injuries have a lasting legacy in the brain – and can continue to cause damage decades after the initial injury.
“However, up until now most of the research has focussed on the people who have sustained multiple head injuries, such as boxers and American Football players. This is the first time we have seen in these protein tangles in patients who have sustained a single head injury.”
The team hopes the research will be used to develop new preventative treatments specifically targeting people who have suffered any number of brain injuries.