Could a Head Injury Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that progressively attacks the brain’s ability to manage memory, behavior, and thinking. People who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease may develop symptoms including memory loss, disorientation, difficulty retaining new information, mood swings, personality changes, behavioral changes, and a host of other possibilities. Many medical conditions and external factors can increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, and head injuries are one of the most prevalent.

A traumatic brain injury like a concussion or penetrating head wound may not directly cause Alzheimer’s immediately, but these injuries can certainly increase the risk of the victim developing Alzheimer’s later in life. The immediate symptoms of a head injury may include cognitive difficulties, memory lapses or difficulty recalling the incident that caused the injury. The victim may experience other symptoms like disorientation, nausea, and fatigue for days or weeks following the injury. Head injuries can also impair memory functions, one of the most difficult symptoms of dementia.

What to Do After a Head Injury

The most important thing to do after you or a loved one suffers a head injury – at any age – is to seek medical care. A doctor can identify the symptoms of concussions and other head injuries and provide the patient with a prognosis of future concerns. For example, a mild concussion may only cause a few days of discomfort before the victim feels “back to normal” whereas a severe head injury may result in a long period of unconsciousness that can have permanent effects. Anyone who suffers a head injury should carefully follow his or her doctor’s directions for treatment and recovery and report any changes in symptoms immediately.

Older adults who suffer head injuries should consult with their doctors about possible complications or increased risk of developing neurological conditions like dementia. While there is no way to predict how a head injury will affect a particular patient, it is possible to manage the symptoms of a head injury and prevent future injuries, limiting the risk of developing dementia later in life. Many individuals such as athletes who play contact sports and combat veterans are at increased risk of suffering head injuries and are therefore more susceptible to developing dementia and other neurological conditions later in life.

The Link Between Head Injuries and Alzheimer’s Disease

Research from the Alzheimer’s Association indicates that older adults who have histories of moderate traumatic brain injuries are 2.3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than seniors who have no prior head injuries. Individuals with a history of severe traumatic brain injuries (such as any injury that results in unconsciousness for more than 24 hours) are 4.5 more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain injuries can also alter the brain’s chemistry and functions in various ways that can lead to dementia later in life, but there is currently no evidence to suggest that a single mild brain injury is enough to cause Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. People with certain genetic markers and those who develop other brain conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy are at a higher risk of developing dementia, however.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition that worsens over time, eventually impacting the quality of life to a severe degree and interfering with basic everyday functions. While some Alzheimer’s patients may be able to manage some of their symptoms with medication, these are essentially temporary treatments that only address symptoms but do nothing for the underlying cause. There may be no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but anyone struggling with the condition, or who has a family member with Alzheimer’s, can find numerous support resources online for living with and managing the condition.