Finding a link between chronic brain injury and cognitive decline

Can a concussion cause Alzheimer’s disease? No, but research suggests that repeated concussions from brain trauma can cause damage leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.

“In the past, we didn’t understand the severity of concussions – now we understand that there is damage, and there can be long-term consequences to traumatic brain injury,” says Dr. Cheryl Wellington, a researcher at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health whose lab studies risk factors for dementia including a history of brain injury.

Dr. Cheryl Wellington Associate Professor, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia Principal Investigator, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

This kind of lasting, deteriorative damage is the result of usually hundreds of concussions, over years of exposure to injury. "We’re still learning what that means, and what the brain needs in terms of healing time after injury,” Dr. Wellington says.

In 90 per cent of cases, the brain will heal itself after a concussion and return to normal. Dr. Wellington’s lab is currently looking into the other 10 per cent, and working to better understand why some people sustain lasting damage, and to better detect those who are more susceptible to cognitive consequences. To do this, Dr. Wellington has developed a highly effective experimental model that mimics the effects of concussion.

“It’s a very sophisticated model system,” says Dr. Wellington. “We’re able to interface with studies on concussion-reducing helmets, whiplash thresholds, and with our clinical colleagues who treat people who have had traumatic brain injuries.” Dr. Wellington hopes to expand this system in research laboratories across Canada, providing training and insight to better understand traumatic brain injury and its effects.

For more information on Dr. Wellington’s research, and her role in improving our understanding of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, join her and other prominent neuroscience researchers and clinicians at UBC’s 2015 Alzheimer Update on January 31, 2015.

To attend, RSVP by email to card.clinic@ubc.ca