Traumatic brain injuries can occur as a result of major falls, auto accidents and sports injuries. A single instance of head trauma is enough to result in lifelong consequences. In fact, recent research suggests just one occurrence of TBI can substantially increase a person’s chances of developing dementia later in life.

Elisa Zanier, who is a researcher for the Mario Negri Institute, has stated that these injuries are the leading cause of disabilities and death in young adults. However, she suggests that even milder cases of the condition could significantly increase a young person’s chances of dementia and other types of degenerative brain diseases, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. According to Zanier, “Understanding the mechanism linking an acute mechanical event to a progressive, degenerative brain disease would help the development of new therapies.”

Tau proteins

The working belief now is that TBI increases the amount of abnormal tau proteins, which are largely responsible for memory issues and brain cell damage. In one study, researchers examined the brain tissue of 15 individuals who had experienced head trauma at least a year ago and 15 individuals who were healthy. They discovered the patients who had experienced a brain injury had higher levels of abnormal tau proteins. 

This evidence coincides with another study involving mice. After mice suffered a brain injury, the proteins in question developed and spread to other areas of the rodents’ brains. However, this is simply the first evidence of a potential link between tau proteins and future development of dementia. Further research will be necessary to prove a more definitive link, but it is a promising first step in learning how to help those who suffer from degenerative brain diseases. 

Anyone who has sustained a traumatic brain injury should not hesitate to seek medical attention. It may take time for the symptoms to fully develop, and the sooner a person can begin treatment, the greater the likelihood of warding off more serious complications.