Alzheimer's Disease
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reacts to an Alzheimer’s statistic while at the Family Caregiver Roundtable at Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa, November 15, 2015. Reuters/Brian C. Frank

A recent study, conducted by researchers from Imperial College London, showed that protein clumps similar to Alzheimer's disease patients are also found inside the brains of people who have had a head injury. In other words, head injury patients are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research suggested that amyloid plaques are present shortly after a brain injury. However, this new study shows that the plaques are present in the brain over a decade after the injury. The findings will help in better explaining why brain injury patients are always at an increased risk of developing dementia.

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Although a major head injury increases the risk of developing dementia in later life, the biological changes that cause dementia are not known by scientists.

Dr. Gregory Scott from Department of Medicine at Imperial College London and the lead author of the paper said that the consequence a person suffering from head injury is known as hidden disability. This can be present even after years of the injury. The person may seem to have fully recovered. However, they can have persistent problems affecting their everyday life. Memory and concentration problems are common.

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The team of researchers studied nine patients, aged 38-55, with moderate to severe traumatic head injuries. These injuries were sustained between 11 months to 17 years prior to the study. They went through a brain scan that would allow the scientists to detect amyloid plaques in the brains, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s as well as healthy volunteers were also scanned.

The patients with head injuries had more amyloid plaques than the healthy volunteers but less than that of the Alzheimer’s patients, reports EurekAlert.

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“This is a preliminary study, and it's important to stress that these head injury patients didn't have Alzheimer's disease. However it supports the idea that the window of treatment for brain injury is potentially months or even years after the initial event,” said Scott.

He also explained that it is important to find out what processes go in the brain exactly so that it is possible to “intervene and improve long-term outcomes for patients.”