BU Today (February 16, 2017): Links Found among Concussion, Genes, and Alzheimer’s

Publication Date: 
Thu, 02/16/2017

A concussion today could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, but only if your genes already tip the odds toward dementia, according to a study published in the journal Brain on January 11, 2017.

Researchers have known for more than a decade that people who experience a severe or moderate traumatic brain injury are at greater risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease later on, but far less is known about how mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, affect brain health over time, even though they make up more than 70 percent of all head injuries.

“People tend to ignore concussion and just shake it off, and don’t follow up with care,” which makes it difficult to study the lifelong impact of such injuries, says study lead author Jasmeet Hayes, a School of Medicine assistant professor of psychiatry. The study was supported by grants from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Institute of Mental Health.

As a psychologist and faculty member at the National Center for PTSD and the Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center, Hayes works with veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have suffered head injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

One patient, J.G., a retired marine who had been near more than 50 significant explosions in his 14 years with the US Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal Service, prompted Hayes to look more closely at the lifelong impact of concussions.