BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Head injuries link to Alzheimer's
War veterans
The study looked at head injuries among war veterans
Research carried out in the US has backed up suggestions that head injuries may be linked to the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Doctors at the National Institute on Aging in the US have analysed the cases of soldiers who suffered head injuries during World War II.

They found that those who suffered moderate head injuries were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's while those who experienced severe head injuries were four times as likely to develop the condition.

The doctors have said that their findings to do not demonstrate a definite link between the two but show that there is a strong associated risk. They have called for further research to be carried out.

We now need to hone in on what is behind the findings

Dr Richard Havlik, National Institute on Aging

The doctors analysed the medical records and interviewed 548 male Navy and Marine World War II veterans who were hospitalised during their period of service with a head injury.

They compared these veterans with 1,228 men who had also served during the war but had no history of a head injury.

They found that those who suffered mild head injuries - who had lost consciousness for no more than 30 minutes and had no skull fractures - were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

Those who had suffered more severe head injuries - who had been hospitalised and had been unconscious for more than 24 hours - were four times more likely to have Alzheimer's disease.

The doctors examined whether other factors including genetic predisposition, family history of dementia, education or alcohol use were contributory factors. However, they found no evidence for this.

Further research

Dr Richard Havlik, from the US National Institute on Aging, said further research was needed.

"We now need to hone in on what is behind the findings, especially what may be happening biologically.

"While we may not fully understand what is going on, as a practical matter, it may be one more reason to wear that bike helmet instead of keeping it in the closet."

Dr Brenda Plassman, from Duke University who was also involved in the study, said the research was a further step towards stopping Alzheimer's disease.

"Understanding how head injury and other Alzheimer's disease risk factors begin their destructive work early in life may ultimately lead to finding ways to interrupt the disease process early on."

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative and irreversible brain disorder that causes intellectual impairment, disorientation and eventually death.

There is no cure. It is estimated that between 2 and 5% of people over 65 years of age and up to 20% of those over 85 years of age suffer from the disease.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

21 Sep 00 | Health
14bn bill for Alzheimer's
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories