Mild traumatic brain injuries increase risk of dementia for veterans

May 11, 2018 - 11:38 am

Traumatic Brain Injuries are common within the veteran community thanks to blasts, motor vehicle accidents and gunshot wounds. While there is much research that looks at CTE in professional atheletes, many recent studies have found similar consequences of these injuries with memory loss in veterans.

 Earlier studies only focused on moderate to severe injuries but a more recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed two groups: all-era veterans and a sample of Iraq and Afghantistan veterans who all received their care from the VA and shows even less severe brain injuries can still have long-term affects. 

The study notes that "17 percent of Iraq and Afghnaistan troops experienced a mild TBI during a depolyment," and within their cohorst study of  more than 350,000 veterans, 2.6 percent of veterans without TBI compared to 6.1 percent of thise with TBI. 

Although these veterans were coded for a TBI and a small group of the study centers on a specfic era of veteran, the research couldn't examine the timing of when the injury occured, which is a drawback of using only medical records.

The team of researchers, lead by Deborah Barnes, who conducts reasearch with the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System and the University of California at San Francisco found it important to note that the risk of dementia was 2.51 times greater for veterans with mild TBI who did lose consciousness for a short period of time. Even with the increased risk that doesn't mean diagnoses of TBI guaruntees a veteran will develop the brain disease.

"For veterans who've had a TBI, that physician should be aware of that risk factor and monitor those patients for cognitive impairment so that they can be diagnosed earlier and then connected with the appropriate resources they would need," said Deborah E. Barnes, PhD, MPH. 

In the civilian population, many people who have Dementia don't have a diagnosis so having open communicating with health professionals will make it easier to idenitfy any risks so veterans can use the proper resources.

While risk can increase with mild TBI, Barnes advises veterans can decrease that possibility by staying physically and mentally engaged, frequently exercising and quitting smoking. 

The VA provides extensive care and resources on understanding Dementia. You can find tips on how to identify symptons from the Veterans Health Library, get details on what VA services are available, and even learn about safety precautions for caregivers.