Have you ever hit your head? It could be more serious...
Growing up I played tons of sports that were pretty high impact (ice hockey, lacrosse) and I was always getting knocked around, very rarely I would get a hit to the head, and only once was it pretty severe. But many people throughout their lives due to sports, lifestyle, or just bad luck sustain a head injury. Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) have been studied a lot recently and may be a significant risk factor to developing Alzheimer's according to a new study from Paris, France. Alzheimer's Disease is a pretty significant form of dementia that gets worse and worse over time, significantly impairing memory and the ability to physically function.
What is a TBI and how do I know if I had one?
Technically a TBI is any injury or trauma that causes damage to the brain, and it can be in the form on your head hitting an object, and object hitting your head, or something piercing through your skull into your brain matter. And these injuries range from mild to severe, so you may never lose consciousness (but feel a little fuzzy...like a slight concussion) and have a mild TBI, or lose consciousness and have pretty major damage to your brain; it is all person dependent and how the injury occurs. For any hard hit to your head, wether you lose consciousness or not, you should go to see your HCP to ensure that there is no major damage and they can work you up, because with mild TBI, you may feel fine, but upon neurological exam your HCP might find that you are a little off and you just don't realize it. So in a nutshell? With a mild TBI you might not even know you have one, but you need to be under medical care.
What are Treatments and Prognosis?
Depending on the level of severity, the treatment may be different BUT the standard is that you will have your neurological signs checked frequently (asking you different questions, looking at your pupils in direct light, moving all of your extremities, and being asked to follow pretty simple commands) along with a CT Scan of your head to look for soft tissue damage and bleeding, and sometimes x-rays to assess for broken bone structures. If you have any form of bleeding, your blood pressure will be controlled to ensure that you have adequate blood flow to your brain but not too much to cause excess bleeding in the tissues. As well, you will most likely be placed on oxygen to make sure that you have enough oxygen in your blood to supply your brain. After TBIs, depending on severity, some people have personality and behavioral changes, their memory/thinking/reasoning is not what it was pre-injury, communication can change, and some of your senses can be different (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste). Some very severe TBIs can cause people to be in comatose states and never re-gain consciousness. In the hospital, we will get you set up with different resources that can help you such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, psychiatrists, neurologists, etc. You will have a whole team working on you to get you back to fighting form!
What does this have to do with Alzheimer's?
Well, I needed to give you some background to put this all into perspective for you! A large study in Paris, France conducted over 7 years looked at the incidences of Veterans with TBIs and their rates of Alzheimer's. What they found was that people who had had ANY form of TBI, compared to those who had never had a TBI, had over double the risk of having Alzheimer's later in life. That is pretty significant, seeing as the study looked at over 280,000 participants and a large portion of the TBIs were not severe they were considered mild to moderate. Research is being done now to figure out why exactly this occurs, but it is presumed that the damage is more prolonged than we originally thought and can cause further damage over time.
Due to the fact that in the US alone, the CDC reports over 1.7 Million TBI related hospital/medical visits a year, how many people are at risk worldwide? A lot! So please wear helmets when biking/riding a motorcycle, drive safely, and try to stay clear of major head injuries....I know no one goes out looking for them, but just be aware that any time you bonk your head hard, you should go to get looked at to make sure it isn't something more significant. And watch your loved ones that have had TBIs closely, maybe you can spot some of the signs of Alzheimer's early and get treatment (tomorrow's post!!)
Yours in Good Health