Looking into head injury and dementia

Research at Imperial College London is exploring the link between head injury and dementia



From traffic accidents to collision sports, millions of people around the world experience head injuries every year. While these events can result in immediate damage to the brain, evidence suggests that they could also have significant effects in the longer-term. Studies have shed light on higher rates of dementia in people who sustain these injuries, but we don’t fully understand how these events set dementia-causing processes in motion. Understanding the long-term consequences of a head injury and the changes that lead to an increased risk of dementia is an important goal for research.

While there is a strong link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and dementia, it is difficult to predict which patients might be affected in this way. The project will use brain scans and blood tests to identify ways to predict future memory and thinking problems following TBI.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when the brain is physically damaged, for example after a car crash or fall. People who experience a TBI often have ongoing problems, including a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. While we don’t fully understand why this happens, an important factor is that brain cells continue to die for months and years after the initial injury.

Findings from this study will also shed light on how TBI might increase a person’s risk of subsequent dementia. There is an urgent need for tools that doctors could use at the point at which someone sustains a head injury, which could identify people who are most at risk of dementia.

Working with 40 patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI), Dr Neil Graham at Imperial College London will investigate whether brain scans and the protein, neurofilament light (NFL) measured with blood tests soon after an injury could help predict future memory problems. Dr Graham will also carefully compare patterns of brain degeneration following TBI with those seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. His team wants to see if the same brain areas are affected and whether TBI could increase someone’s risk of Alzheimer’s by making these regions more vulnerable to the damaging processes that cause the disease.

A scientist holding a model of a human brain

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Awarded to
Dr Neil Graham

Imperial College London

Current Award

1 June 2017 - 31 May 2020

Full project name
Predicting neurodegeneration after traumatic brain injury: a longitudinal study of an environmental risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Head injury, sport and dementia: should we be worried?

Read Dr Neil Graham's blog post on the links between head injuries and dementia

Read the blog