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Police officers at increased risk of brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases, study reveals

Police officers are at an increased risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) with two in five “losing consciousness” on the job, it has been revealed.

The research, published by the University of Exeter, also found that officers are more likely to turn to alcohol in later life to cope with depression and anxiety.

According to the study, some 39 per cent of UK police officers have suffered a serious head injury which has resulted in the loss of consciousness of less than 30 minutes, compared to just eight to 12 per cent of the general public.

The researchers worry that these brain injuries are manifesting in later life as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – an anxiety disorder caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events.

TBIs have also been linked with a greater risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease – such as dementia and Parkinson’s.

Commenting on the paper, author and Professor Huw Williams said: “The main thing to take away from this is that we need to look after people who are in the front line of public protection.

“TBI has been extensively linked to mental health difficulties including PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse.

“Being a police officer is a dangerous job – with a risk of both physical and mental trauma – yet there has been a surprising lack of research investigating the presence and influence of TBI in the police.”

Co-author Nick Smith added: “TBI, including mild forms, can cause significant and potentially long-lasting cognitive, emotional and behavioural impairments.

“However, with the right support and treatment, it is possible to recover from TBI and avoid getting into negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse.”

According to the latest statistics, there were 348,000 admissions to UK hospitals with an acquired brain injury in 2016-17 – the latest data available.

 

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