Brain injury tied to dementia among military vets, reports study

New evidence suggests that traumatic brain injuries sustained during combat or other situations are contributors to dementia among veterans later in life. The study, published in the journal Neurology, also says that veterans who did suffer brain trauma were more likely to have Alzheimer’s in later life.

While studies have previously corroborated head injuries, especially in boxers, contributing to dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life, this study is the first one to specifically discuss the role of military and combat with later life health consequences.

The University of California-San Francisco and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center study investigated the records of nearly 200,000 American veterans over age 55 and who had visited a medical facility associated with the VA in the early 2000s. The veterans had a mean age of 68 at the start of the study.

Although none of those individuals had been diagnosed with dementia at the time of their medical visit in the early 2000s, a decade later found that around 16 percent of those who had a documented head injury were found to have dementia, compared with only a 10 percent occurrence in those who did not have a brain injury. That works out to a 60 percent increase of dementia in those with head injuries.

Researchers did say that those looking for definitive answers on dementia must continue to look for new research and understanding of injuries, saying that the brain is immensely complicated and brain trauma is only now beginning to have larger and more specific research being done by scientists.

“Head trauma is just one piece of a big puzzle,” added Rodolfo Savica, a neurologist with University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, who wrote an editorial accompanying the Neurology study. “All of us receive hits in our heads. All of us. Ever since we were kids.”

Lead researcher Deborah Barnes, an epidemiologist at the VA and associate professor at UCSF, said that there must be cautious when dealing with studies related to the brain.

“It doesn’t mean that every single person who has even repeated traumatic brain injuries will develop dementia,” she said. “This is just shifting people’s risk a little bit one way or the other.”

But with the rise in PTSD and other emotional and psychological injuries being reported and publicized by the United States military, it is clear that more studies like this one are needed to fully understand the role combat, head trauma, and other brain injuries can have on veterans’ quality of life later in life after they retire from the service.

The researchers hope that more efforts will be made to look further at these issues. “Our results suggest that TBI in older veterans may predispose toward the development of symptomatic dementia and raise concern about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger veterans and civilians,” the authors say in the abstract of the article.

This story by Joseph Mayton was originally published on