Even “Mild” Brain Injuries Can Lead to Early Onset Dementia

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Recent months have seen the publication of two studies confirming that traumatic brain injury, even when characterized as “mild” result in a significantly increased risk of early onset dementia.

Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is usually diagnosed in three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. A mild TBI may be as simple as a sports concussion or a concussion caused by a whiplash motion in a motor vehicle collision. Such injuries often go undetected at first because there is no visible injury to the skull, and in many cases the injured person either did not lose consciousness or does not report losing consciousness. Routine diagnostic tests like MRI cannot necessarily detect the presence of a TBI.

A population-based study published in The Lancet Psychiatry in April 2018 observed a cohort of more than 2.5 million people in Denmark, where there is a national registry of all patients. This study looked at how many people had suffered some form of TBI and how many were later diagnosed with dementia. After adjusting for other risk factors for dementia, this study concluded that there was a 24% increased risk of dementia for anyone who had suffered a TBI. The risk of dementia increased for people with multiple TBIs in their lifetime, to the point that a person with 5 or more TBIs in their lifetime had a 300% increased risk of dementia. Even people who had only suffered one concussion had a 17% increased risk. Note that this study only looked at people with confirmed diagnosis of TBI, so it likely missed people who had suffered concussions but never sought treatment.


Another study, published in JAMA Neurology on May 7, 2018, found that a concussion without loss of consciousness led to more than double the normal risk for developing dementia. This study was based on a population of approximately 350,000 veterans, with the average age of 49. Those who had concussion without loss of consciousness were at 2.36 times the risk for dementia. A concussion with loss of consciousness led to a 2.51 increased risk. Moderate and severe TBIs led to a 3.77 (nearly quadruple) increased risk of dementia.


It is extremely disconcerting that people who have not even reached the age of 50 are experiencing dementia due to injuries that we see all too often in child sports and “low impact” motor vehicle collisions. Studies like these confirm that we must be constantly vigilant of the danger of head injuries.

By Attorney Jeffrey Mansell - May 11, 2018