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Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

Can Mild Head Injuries Lead to Long-Term Memory Loss?

Minor head injuries are fairly common for most people. Whether you fall down the stairs or accidentally hit your forehead off of that shelf in the basement, things happen. However, new studies are exploring the possibility that long-term memory loss may be linked to repeated injuries.

In a recent study at Boston University, researchers have been looking into the link between repeated brain trauma and different neurodegenerative diseases, for example Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. To conduct the study, researchers used post-mortem tests and also conducted interviews with family members. These interviews explored the likelihood of repeated head trauma, as well as if any symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) were shown prior to their death.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to repeated brain trauma. The disease has a number of symptoms, the most common of which are memory loss and emotional and behavioural issues. This is a serious brain disease that can eventually lead to full on dementia in sufferers.

The symptoms of CTE can be broken up into four different stages. Stage 1 symptoms include headaches and loss of concentration; Stage 2 symptoms include depression, explosive behaviours and short-term memory loss; Stage 3 includes difficulty organizing thoughts and making decisions; Stage 4 eventually results in dementia, as well as aggression. Unlike other brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, there can be between 11 and 14 years between each of the stages.

One interesting aspect of the Boston University study is the link it makes between athletes and war veterans. Both groups of men were exposed to higher instances of minor head injuries than the average person, due to the nature of their job. Researchers found evidence of CTE in 68 of the 85 men aged 17 to 98 that were tested for the disease. Most of the men that were tested had histories of repeated head injuries due to their professions.

So what does this mean, exactly? There may in fact be long-term consequences to repeated minor head injuries. While these injuries may appear mild at the time, if they occur frequently enough, they have the potential to lead to CTE. Professions where minor head injuries are common only increases the risks of the degenerative disease.

Now before you start worrying about every time you have ever smacked your head off of something, it is important to note that this disease is not brought on by a few sporadic head injuries. CTE appears to occur more often as a result of constant and repetitive head injuries or brain trauma.

The researchers of this study hope to further their research moving forward. They aim to branch out their test patients to also include people who had experienced mild head injuries but did not display any of the symptoms of CTE.

If you have noticed any of the symptoms of this disease in yourself or a loved one, it may indicate signs of a degenerative brain disease. Feel free to contact the Age Matters Clinic if you have any questions or concerns relating to aging and memory loss.