Traumatic Brain Injury is the signature injury for U.S. veterans of the most recent wars. A study recently released by JAMA Neurology shows that military service members need only experience a mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to increase their risk of developing dementia.
A team of researchers led by Deborah Barnes at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System and UC San Francisco found that a veteran who suffered even a mild TBI and did not lose consciousness has “more than a 2-fold increase in the risk of dementia diagnosis.”
The team studied the medical records of more than 350,000 veterans from a 13-year period, (between 2001 and 2014), who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The study included 178,779 patients in the Veterans Health Administration health care system diagnosed with a TBI and 178,779 patients in a control group. The researchers found that only 2.6 percent of the veterans without TBI developed dementia compared with 6.1 percent of those with TBI.
The study also confirmed that loss of consciousness did play a role when a veteran with a TBI later developed dementia. Veterans who experienced a mild TBI and did not lose consciousness were 2.36 times more likely to develop dementia than those who did not experience a TBI. Still, veterans with a TBI who reported losing consciousness were 3.19 times more likely to develop dementia than those with a TBI who did not lose consciousness.
The study authors admit that their research does not answer all the questions about how exactly the injury increases a veteran’s vulnerability to dementia. Yet, the findings provide further evidence that these injuries have long-lasting effects. It is something to keep in mind as the face of war continues to change and as we reflect on the sacrifices of the women and men in the armed forces this Memorial Day.