Newsbriefs: Traumatic Head Injury; PTSD; AD; Brain Hemorrhage

News and views on healthy living.

TRAUMATIC HEAD INJURY DOES NOT RAISE RISK FOR DEMENTIA

It has long been believed that traumatic head injury (TBI) involving damage to the brain is associated with increased risk for dementia. However, a new study published in the Nov. 21, 2012 online edition of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry disputes this view. The researchers followed more than 4,000 older adults aged 65 and older for 16 years and found that participants who had suffered a brain injury with loss of consciousness at some point in life did not have a higher risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in older age than those who had not suffered TBI. However, participants with a history of TBI did experience increased risk for subsequent falls with brain injury, and those who suffered TBI after the age of 55 had four times the risk for re-injury compared to people who had not suffered any TBI. In older adults, a recent TBI also doubled the odds of death from any cause, said the researchers, who recommended that people who have suffered a TBI take measures to strengthen their balance and take care of their health.

CHRONIC WORRIERS AT GREATER RISK FOR PTSD

People who normally experience high levels of anxiety may be at greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than non-worriers, new research suggests. PTSD is a mental disorder in which people who experience traumatic events—such as suffering a severe health crisis, facing the death of a loved one, or being the victim of a violent crime—cope with feelings of fear and stress long after the traumatic event is over. In this study, researchers followed 1,000 people who had been assessed for levels of neuroticism, which involves symptoms such as depression, persistent anxiety, and abnormally strong reactions to everyday difficulties, frustrations, and setbacks. Over the length of the 10-year study, those individuals who scored highest on measures of neuroticism at the outset were significantly more likely to be among the five percent of participants who developed PTSD, according to a report published online December 2012 in the journal Psychological Medicine. These findings suggest that identifying people with higher levels of anxiety and providing them with extra care if they experience a traumatic event might help reduce the incidence of PTSD.

PRENATAL BRAIN DEVELOPMENT MAY INFLUENCE VULNERABILITY TO AD

Brain scans of newborns have revealed that some brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other disorders are already present in infants at birth. Scientists screened the DNA of 272 infants who had undergone MRI brain scans shortly after birth for genetic variants such as the APOE4 variant associated with AD. The brain scans revealed signs of changes caused by gene variants linked to autism, schizophrenia, AD, and other disorders, according to a report published Jan. 3, 2013 in the journal Cerebral Cortex. These results suggest that the effects of certain gene variants may begin in utero, while a child is developing. “This could stimulate an exciting new line of research focused on preventing onset of illness through very early intervention in at-risk individuals,” the study author said.

HEAVY DRINKING LINKED TO INCREASED LIKELIHOOD OF BRAIN HEMORRHAGE

Heavy consumption of alcohol—four drinks a day or more—can increase the risk for hemorrhagic stroke and bring it on earlier in life, according to research reported in a recent issue of the journal Neurology. French researchers found that among the 540 people they studied who had suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage—which is characterized by rupture of a blood vessel in the brain that leaks into surrounding tissue—25 percent were heavy drinkers. These individuals tended to have a stroke around the age of 60, whereas people who drank moderately or not at all tended to have their strokes at the average age of 74. “Chronic heavy alcohol intake increases the risk of bleeding at a very young age,” concluded the senior researcher. Intracerebral hemorrhage accounts for about 10 percent of the 800,000 strokes that occur in the United States each year.

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