Concussions May Accelerate Alzheimer’s Progression, Study Says

For those with a genetic predisposition, mild head trauma may be a major risk factor.
MRI

MRI image via istock.com/haydenbird

The link between concussions and CTE, a degenerative brain disease often seen in athletes and soldiers, has been well established. And now, new research from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) suggests the head injuries may play a role in another debilitating condition: Alzheimer’s.

In a study published Wednesday in Brain, BUSM researchers write that concussions may accelerate brain atrophy and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s, at least in people who are already predisposed to getting the disease. (Individuals with certain genes may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.)

“We found that having a concussion was associated with lower cortical thickness in brain regions that are the first to be affected in Alzheimer’s disease,” corresponding author Jasmeet Hayes said in a statement. “Our results suggest that when combined with genetic factors, concussions may be associated with [reduced] cortical thickness and memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease relevant areas.”

Hayes and her team studied 160 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, some of whom had suffered concussions and some of whom hadn’t. They used MRI imaging to measure key areas of the veterans’ brains, looking for changes in thickness and appearance that are indicative of Alzheimer’s.

The relative youth of the study group—the participants had an average age of 32—is promising, Hayes explained in the statement, because it suggests that initial signs of Alzheimer’s can be caught early in life. With more research and development, scientists may even be able to create better early-stage treatments.

With evidence piling up, it’s more important than ever to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion—and, even more crucially, to work to avoid them if at all possible.


Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com