A recent study has found some very troubling results: youth who experience head injuries may experience an increased risk of dementia as they age.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that head injuries can interfere with the performance of the glymphatic system, which is responsible for cleaning the brain of damaging debris. The lead researcher said, “We know that traumatic brain injury early in life is a risk factor for the early development of dementia in the decades that follow… this study shows that these injuries set into motion a cascading series of events that impair the brain’s ability to clear waste, allowing proteins like tau to spread throughout the brain and eventually reach toxic levels.”
What type of injuries in youth can affect these types of changes? We know that kids who play high-contact sports, like football and hockey, are most at risk for head injuries like concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs.) But another recent study that looked at the brains of teenage football players aged 16-18 found that even those players who had only played for one season, and who had not experienced even a mild concussion, exhibited brain changes from participating in the high-impact sport. The football players all showed damage to the brain’s white matter, which contains the nerve fibers that communicate with one another.