ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) — Older adults with memory issues and a history of concussions are more likely to have a buildup of Alzheimer’s-prone plaques in the brain.
A study from Mayo Clinic researchers finds that concussion and other head injuries put some at more of a risk of developing brain plaques and Alzheimer’s, although continuing research is not yet directly linking the two.
”What we think it suggests is, head trauma is associated with Alzheimer’s-type dementia — it’s a risk factor,” study researcher Michelle Mielke, an associate professor of epidemiology and neurology at Mayo Clinic Rochester, told U.S. News & World Report. “But it doesn’t mean someone with head trauma is [automatically] going to develop Alzheimer’s.”
The study published online this week in the journal, Neurology, shows that people with memory loss were 20 percent more likely to have such brain plaques. Approximately 500 people with no signs of memory problems and 141 people who did report thinking problems were asked if they had experienced some sort of trauma to the head in the past.
All patients studied were over the age of 70, and most reported head trauma or a concussion nearly 50 years before.
Seventeen percent of individuals with no memory problems said they had experienced a head trauma, while 18 percent of those with memory problems reported they had experienced a concussion or other head injury.
The link between the brain plaques – deposits of the protein fragment beta-amyloid – has been shown in past research to be far more common in those with Alzheimer’s. They damage and kill nerve cells as the disease takes hold of the brain. However, linking the amount of plaques requires more research.
“Interestingly, in people with a history of concussion, a difference in the amount of brain plaques was found only in those with memory and thinking problems, not in those who were cognitively normal,” study author Michelle Mielke said in a statement.
“Our results add merit to the idea that concussion and Alzheimer’s disease brain pathology may be related,” Mielke told U.S. News & World Report. “However, the fact that we did not find a relationship in those without memory and thinking problems suggests that any association between head trauma and amyloid is complex.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Alzheimer’s caused nearly 83,000 U.S. deaths in 2010, and that it is one of the most common diseases in people receiving intensive nursing or hospice care across the country.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s which causes memory loss to become more severe over time, and currently affects more than 5 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.