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Alzheimer's Disease

Head Trauma and its Link to Alzheimers



I have read one of the potential causes of Alzheimer`s may be head trauma. I wondered if there has been a higher incidence of Alzheimer`s in Athletes (for example, football players). What are the research studies which made this link, and what kind of head trauma are we referring to?


Hello! Thank you for submitting your questions to us. There is a type of dementia that athletes involved in high impact sports such as boxing and football may develop called "dementia pugilistica", sometimes referred to as "punch drunk" syndrome. This type of dementia is thought to be the result of repeated head trauma. Studies have found that the brains of these individuals at autopsy contain numerous neurofibrillary tangles, which are also found in Alzheimer`s disease (AD). This is a different type of dementia than Alzheimer`s disease. Regarding head trauma as a risk for Alzheimer`s disease: Case-control epidemiological studies have been done where people are followed over many years and large quantities of information about their lifestyle and medical history are obtained. People who develop the disease (cases) are compared with people who do not develop a disease (controls). A history of severe head injury associated with hospitalization or a loss of consciousness has emerged as a consistent risk factor for the development of Alzheimer`s disease in these large-scale studies. It is estimated that head injury may double the risk of developing Alzheimer`s disease. It is probable that head trauma may trigger biological processes that lead to the development of the plaques and tangles in the brain that are characteristic of AD. It is important to remember that head injury is a risk factor for the development of AD, but not necessarily a direct cause. There are many people with head injuries who do not develop AD and there are many people with AD who have never had a head injury. The causes of AD are very complex. However, it is certainly important to recognize that protection from head injury is a good medical practice for protecting health in general as well as something that may potentially lower the risk for AD. Again, thank you very much for your questions. If you have any further questions, please don`t hesitate to contact us again.

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Response by:

Paula K Ogrocki, PhD Paula K Ogrocki, PhD
Assistant Professor of Neurology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University