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According to new research by Canadian biologists, blocking seizures after a head injury could slow or prevent the onset of dementia. Traumatic brain injuries are a major risk factor for dementia, though the reason is largely a mystery. Through this research by the University of Alberta, the researchers have discovered one important way they are linked — namely, post-injury seizures.
As explained by lead author Hadeel Alyenbaawi, who recently completed her PhD dissertation on this topic in the Department of Medical Genetics in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, there is currently no treatment for the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, which includes developing dementia.
Traumatic brain injuries are a major risk factor for certain types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Because seizures are common for patients who have suffered these injuries, neurologists often prescribe anti-epileptic treatments to prevent the seizures. Ted Allison, Co-Author and Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, said the new research reveals the potential to refine this approach to treatment with the new goal of preventing dementia.
Alyenbaawi said that understanding the link between traumatic brain injury and dementia could help further research into preventive measures. “Our data suggest that, at least in animal models, blocking these seizures also could have a benefit later in life by slowing or preventing the onset of dementia. A prophylactic treatment to prevent dementia is an exciting possibility, though there is much work to be done to develop our concept,” he explained. “We are excited to see that our research and the tools we developed resolved some of the mystery around the link between traumatic brain injury and dementia.”
In California, Alzheimer’s disease is a growing public health crisis. There are 690,000 people aged 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s in the state, and 11.7% of people aged 45 and older have subjective cognitive decline. It is expected that by 2030, the number will nearly double in California, growing to over 1.1 million. Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the state, and compared to other leading causes of death, this disease showed the greatest increase.
“Dementia is devastating for patients and families, and it is growing in prevalence in our aging demographics,” added Allison. “These findings open the exciting possibility of refining the anti-epileptic treatments to be a prevention not only of seizures, but also dementia.”
Alyenbaawi noted: “We are excited to see that our research and the tools we developed resolved some of the mystery around the link between traumatic brain injury and dementia. Our data regarding post-traumatic seizure could also help further investigation into promising preventive measures of these incurable diseases.”
People tend to associate a traumatic brain injury with sports concussions, mainly from football. However, national statistics estimate that 50 to 70% of TBI accidents are the result of motor vehicle crashes, which include cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians hit by vehicles. Every year, about 1.7 million cases of TBI occur in the U.S. Approximately 5.3 million people live with a disability caused by TBI in our country alone.