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Mild brain injuries can have lasting impacts on consumers' brain function, study finds

Researchers are particularly worried about those who have experienced multiple injuries

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A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia has found that mild brain injuries can greatly affect consumers’ brain health and function over the long-term. The team found that risk for such brain damage, which can affect memory or increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, was heightened for those who have suffered several brain injuries

“If you have a pre-existing kink in the pipes and you get hit in the head, then everything is taken to a higher level -- the impacts on the memory, the neuroinflammation,” said researcher John Lukens, PhD. “There are a lot of implications to it.” 

Protecting brain health

The researchers conducted their study on mice to determine how brain health is affected by head injuries. Their work revealed that when head injuries aren’t properly healed, the brain swells. For the mice, such swelling lasted up to two weeks; however, when thinking of the life spans of mice versus those of humans, this outcome can lead to long-term brain issues. 

Not only is the swelling cause for concern, but the researchers explained that there are several other risks associated with head injuries. Cognitive decline in old age is more likely, as is the general risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and overall issues with memory. 

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a condition that develops when consumers incur multiple head injuries, and those who experience it have the greatest risk of long-term health risks

“We know that traumatic brain injury carries an increased risk for a bunch of long-term issues like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], and this has really been made extra public because of the NFL,” said researcher Ashley C. Bolte. “Then there’s also anxiety, depression, suicide. The reasons why TBI results in increased risk for this isn’t totally known, and we think that our findings might provide a mechanism as to why.” 

Adequate healing time

When it comes to brain injuries, healing time is key. The researchers explained that this can be the trickiest part, especially when athletes are involved, because most head injury patients want to get back to their regular routine as quickly as possible. However, this study emphasizes the importance of prioritizing healing time, as it could be the best way to avoid future complications. 

“This provides some of the best evidence yet that if you haven’t recovered from a brain injury and you get hit in the head again, you’re going to have even more severe consequences,” said Dr. Lukens. “This reinforces that you have to give people an opportunity to heal. And if you don’t, you’re putting yourself at a much higher risk for long-term consequences that you might not see in a year but could see in a couple of decades.” 

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