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Concussions early in life tied to late life cognitive decline

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new study of twins shows that having a concussion early in life is tied to having lower scores on tests of thinking and memory skills decades later, as well as having more rapid decline in those scores than twins who did not have a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

“These findings indicate that even people with traumatic brain injuries in earlier life who appear to have fully recovered from them may still be at increased risk of cognitive problems and dementia later in life,” said Marianne Chanti-Ketterl, a study author of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “Among identical twins, who share the same genes and many of the same exposures early in life, we found that the twin who had a concussion had lower test scores and faster decline than their twin who had never had a concussion.”

The study involved 8,662 men who were World War II veterans. The participants took a test of thinking skills at the start of the study when they were an average age of 67, and then again up to three more times over 12 years. Scores for the test can range from zero to 50. The average score for all participants at the beginning of the study was 32.5 points. A total of 25% of the participants had experienced a concussion in their life.

Twins who had experienced a concussion were more likely to have lower test scores at age 70, especially if they had a concussion where they lost consciousness or were older than 24 when they had their concussion. Those twins with traumatic brain injury with loss of consciousness, more than one traumatic brain injury, and who had their injuries after age 24, were more likely to have faster cognitive decline than those with no history of traumatic brain injury.