Brain Astrocytes

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have recently discovered that concussions can accelerate Alzheimer’s disease-related deterioration and cognitive decline in people who are already at risk of the disease.

Scans performed on 160 U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some which had suffered traumatic brain injuries at least once during their military career while others never had a concussion, revealed that having a concussion was associated with deterioration in brain regions first to be affected in Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our results suggest that when combined with genetic factors, concussions may be associated with accelerated cortical thickness and memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease relevant areas,” said study co-author Jasmeet Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and research psychologist at National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System.

Three Tests to Reveal Alzheimer’s Disease

An important first step in developing a treatment plan for any disease is having a clear diagnosis. At this time, there are three tests to detect Alzheimer’s disease:

Biomarker Test, which measures and examines a protein in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and bathes the brain for evidence of changes associated with Alzheimer’s

Brain Imaging with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, to record changes in the brain

Cognitive Assessment, using computer-based assessments to evaluate changes in thought, perception and memory

Study Shows Brain Changes Associated with Later Alzheimer’s in Young Age Group

The Boston University School of Medicine study with brain imaging showed that brain changes occurred in those with an average age of 32 years, suggesting that early detection of injury associated with late onset Alzheimer’s disease is possible. Early detection and medical intervention may prevent further mental decline or delay the onset, so it is important to document the occurrence and symptoms of a concussion, whether mild or severe.

“A lot of times when you get that Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the brain is far gone at that point and medication can only do so much,” said Jasmeet Hayes. “But if we try to intervene at an earlier point in people’s lives, that’s where the importance of this research is going to come in.”

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