The study "highlights the importance of concussion prevention, long-term follow-up of those with concussion, and the need for future studies" to investigate the mechanisms behind the link, as well as factors that might reduce the risk of Parkinson's after a concussion, said lead study author Dr. Raquel Gardner, an assistant professor of neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine.
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"Well never know definitively, but its absolutely a possibility".
It's not clear exactly why head injuries are linked with an increased risk of Parkinson's. It's also possible that a brain injury might make the brain less resilient to aging. The TBIs were mild, moderate or severe. Initially, roughly 50 percent of the participants were diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe TBI, while the other half was not. Some of their injuries were due to combat, but some were from falls or motor vehicle accidents.
Among the participants, 1,462 were eventually diagnosed with Parkinson's at some point during the 12-year study. Some research suggests that the common denominator could be abnormal brain deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which is a distinctive feature of Parkinson's disease.
"While the participants had all served in the active military, many if not most of the traumatic brain injuries had been acquired during civilian life", senior study author Kristine Yaffe of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the VA said in a news release. The results showed even people who were diagnosed with a mild concussion faced a 56 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson's.
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In fact, just 360 of 76,297 veterans in the study who'd been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury developed Parkinson's disease, and 543 of 72,592 veterans once diagnosed with moderate to severe injury developed the disease.
A new study of hundreds of thousands of US armed forces veterans concludes that banging your head severely enough to lose consciousness can dramatically increase the risk of Parkinson's, the brain disease marked by tremors, slow movements, balance problems and difficulty walking.
But she stressed that while the increased risk seems high - it was 83 percent higher for veterans who had experienced more serious head injury - the actual number of cases is relatively small.
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