Munro Cullum, Ph.D.: There’s a lot that’s still not known about concussion, it’s maximum treatment and who may be at risk for disorders later in life.
Cullum: What this latest study was done is to actually take a sample with pathologically confirmed Alzheimer’s disease so they were patients who had died. Their brains were autopsied and examined for the characteristics, the plaques and tangles that characterize Alzheimer’s disease, so we knew they had Alzheimer’s disease.
Cullum: And we found not only that there is about a 2.8-year earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease in those with a history of traumatic brain injury, but that relationship held up based on the stage of severity of the disease also such that those with more severe disease had an earlier onset and those with lesser stage had a little bit later onset.
We need to start looking at a finer grain analysis of some of the data looking at other variables that might interact with traumatic brain injury. There might be some other lifestyle factors and other things that might increase risk along with genetic factors, as well.
Cullum: We do know that most people recover quickly from a concussion and there’s typically no dementia later in life for the average person. What we don’t know is who really is at risk and why…One of the studies we’re doing is the Concussion Texas Study. We call it Con-Tex. There’s two phases to it. One is a North Texas concussion study where we have research coordinators in selected local hospitals including UT Southwestern that are interviewing patients after injuries and collecting detailed data. We also have expanded that to a statewide concussion registry for all middle and high schools across the state in our collaboration with the university interscholastic league.
Until we actually get a sense of what the base rate is or how often this injury is occurring, we’re not going to really be able to tell if rule changes or equipment changes or concussion treatment interventions are having a positive impact from year-to-year.
There’s a whole lot we have to learn. We’re really just at the early stages of this research.