Concussions shown to have similarities with Alzheimer’s, study shows

It turns out that mild traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer’s disease have similar effects on the brain.

A study from the University of Southern California was published Monday in the journal GeroScience. It indicated there are new ways to pinpoint patients who have an increased Alzheimer’s risk.

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“These findings are the first to suggest that cognitive impairment following a traumatic brain injury is useful for predicting the magnitude of Alzheimer’s-like brain degradation,” study author Andrei Irimia, an assistant professor of gerontology, neuroscience and biomedical engineering at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering said in a press release. “The results may help health professionals to identify TBI victims who are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”

For the study, researchers analyzed MRIs of the brains of 180 participants. They included 33 patients who had a mild TBI, or concussion from a fall, 66 who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and 81 healthy control participants who did not have TBI or Alzheimer’s. Researchers also developed more computer-generated models to compare dozens of different brain structures. They charted the differences and similarities between the different groups, too.

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Looking at multiple areas of the brain, researchers found reduced cortical thickness — an area that is roughly associated with the age of a brain, and thinning is usually linked to memory loss and other deficits — when compared to the healthy controls. MRIs also showed similarities in brains with TBI and Alzheimer’s disease. Gray matter showed the most similarities in areas involved in decision-making and memory. The white matter showed comparable deterioration patterns in structures responsible for limb movement, memory function and exchanging information between brain hemispheres.

“Using machine learning, we find that the severity of (Alzheimer’s disease)-like brain changes observed during the chronic stage of (minor traumatic brain injuries) can be accurately prognosticated based on acute assessments of post-traumatic mild cognitive impairment,” researchers wrote. “These findings suggest that acute post-traumatic cognitive impairment predicts the magnitude of (Alzheimer’s disease)-like brain atrophy, which is itself associated with (Alzheimer’s disease) risk.”

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