Young people with brain injuries may benefit from drugs used to treat Alzheimer's patients, research shows.
Brain injury can have profound implications
The drug boosts the function of a key brain chemical called acetylcholine.
Brain injury resulting from accidents and serious falls is the most common cause of disability in young people.
The Cambridge University research, published in the journal Brain, suggests boosting the chemical acetylcholine may limit the effect of this damage.
Potentially, this could help minimise the symptoms of brain injury, which can include the inability to concentrate, learn and remember.
The researchers examined 31 young adults who survived a moderate-to-severe head injury.
Patients underwent a number of tests and scans to determine the extent of their injuries, and the problems they were having.
The results showed a reduction in key grey matter in parts of the brain associated with attention, learning and memory.
Crucially, the abnormalities seemed to be linked to an imbalance of acetylcholine - a chemical which helps brain cells communicate with each other.
Break down blocked
The researchers believe that drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors, which block the breakdown of this chemical in the brain, may prove to be an effective treatment.
Currently, cholinesterase inhibitors are used to treat the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Researcher Dr Claire Salmond said: "We are very excited that this study may point the way to an effective treatment for this type of cognitive deficits.
"These problems frequently affect a young person's ability to return to higher education or to work and, therefore, the impact on quality of life and mood can be devastating.
"We are currently working on a study using cholinesterase inhibitors in order to assess the benefits and effectiveness of the drug with patients who have suffered head injuries."
Martin Wakeling, communications director of the head injury Headway, said: "Naturally we welcome any research findings that may lead to more effective treatment of people with acquired brain injury.
"The link between drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's and the treatment of brain injury has been made before but this new research adds to an important body of knowledge."