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A recent study suggests that people with a history of head hits are more likely to suffer cognitive difficulties and depression as the years pass.

In the past decade, research has turned a spotlight on traumatic brain injury.  Through national and international brain research initiatives and a focus on sports-related concussion, our knowledge of traumatic brain injury (TBI) continues to provide answers, and provoke new questions.

Recent research published in the journal Neurology looked at data from the medical records of 13,323 patients over the age of 40 who participate in the Brain Health Registry. The Registry has dual aims of collecting observational data submitted by volunteers to the site, and helping to identify participants for national clinical trials.  Through these efforts the Registry hopes to identify and test potential treatments for those who suffer from brain injury and disorders including PTSD, depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.

From the data set studied, researchers identified approximately five percent of participants (or about 725 people) who self-reported previous experience with head impacts through sports, military service, or physical abuse. Participants also completed assessment surveys on cognitive function and experience of depressive symptoms. Researchers also noted whether the TBI was—or was not—accompanied by loss of consciousness.

Supporting the findings of earlier studies, the research found that those who had suffered head impacts earlier in life were more likely to report depression and cognitive troubles than those who had not suffered concussive head hits.

The research reports on the “dosage” factor of head impacts and its relation to later neurological symptoms.  Individuals with no history of head injury were least likely to report depression and other cognitive difficulties.  Participants who suffered a head hit, or multiple head hits were correspondingly more likely to report problems with memory, emotional control, and thinking.  Lastly, those with a history of repetitive head trauma with loss of consciousness were at higher risk than all other categories for reporting cognitive difficulties.

Dr. Michael Alosco, co-director of the BU Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said, “The findings underscore that repetitive hits to the head, such as those from contact sport participation or physical abuse, might be associated with later-life symptoms of depression.”

Researchers note the observational quality of the data and that empirical information about the actual contact events reported by the participants is unknown.  Having a history of multiple head trauma does not guarantee a future of cognitive difficulty, but it can provide early warning for participants and others with similar backgrounds to watch for symptoms and get help when needed.

There is currently no cure for any brain disorder or a fix for brain injury.  Studies like this one provide common ground for those who have suffered brain injury and whose data may provide better treatment or a cure for those who suffer neurological injury and disease in the future.

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