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New research shows linkages between PTSD, dementia and Alzheimer’s

If recent research proves to be accurate, there is a connection between traumatic brain injury (TBI), dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In most cases, dementia is typically linked to a degenerative brain disease. That presumption may be about to be challenged by a U.S. psychiatrist who has discovered a connection between dementia, TBI and PTSD. All signs point to war veterans having twice the normal chances of developing dementia, largely due to their exposure to head pounding sound waves from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The latest research is pointing to serious brain injury as being the link to an increased risk of dementia and, by extrapolation, hastening the onset of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is usually associated with the build-up of tau protein in the brain. Speculation has it that brain injuries are also precursors to tau build-up, or that the TBI is a precipitating factor in opening the door for Alzheimer’s. This observation would then be applicable to those who play contact sports and suffer a large number of serious concussions.

The group, led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe, was the first to prove that there is a connection between PTSD and a risk of developing dementia. However, they are not the only group to have come to the same conclusion.

While researchers are not certain about the precise mechanism of the detected linkages, they believe that chronic stress, such as that experienced in a battle zone, or changes within the brain, are the potential precursors to dementia/Alzheimer’s. This raises an interesting question. If PTSD were to be successfully treated, would that lower the risk of dementia?

This isn’t a question that can be answered any time soon, and most of the men and women who have TBI and/or PTSD would need to be cognitively monitored as they age. Are there solutions for coping with these diseases? Currently, while there is some progress in treating vets and sports victims with brain injuries, not much can help mitigate the ongoing battle they face every day to regain what was once a normal life.

While research is ongoing and funding is in place to address these issues, only time will weigh in with answers. Recently, there was a $60 million project, funded by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD), to track down the links between neurological degeneration and TBI. It’s a can of worms that once opened may lead to some form of assistance for those who have sustained head injuries that have robbed them of the ability to be, think and act they way they used to.

What is the connection between TBI and the law? In the sports arena, if players are not adequately informed of the risks of playing, even with a good helmet, and are repeatedly sent on to the playing field despite having sustained a concussion, and they develop dementia, the negligence of the coach and team owners come under scrutiny. Should their case win in court, they may be awarded compensation for their injuries.

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