New Study Links Head Injuries to Psychiatric Disorders

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The long-term effects of brain injuries have been making headlines over the past year because of the current concussion crisis within the NFL, but the majority of the focus is on the connection to memory problems and an increasing linkage between traumatic brain injury, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and Alzheimer’s disease-like symptoms and brain changes.

However, there is much more to brain injuries than memory problems. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the neurodegenerative brain disease being found in the brains of former NFL players, is associated with several mental illnesses aside from Alzheimer’s, such as depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. On top of that, a new study reports reports individuals who presented at hospital for head injuries are at an increased risk for several psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, organic mental disorders, and depression.

According to Medwire NewsBrain Sketch, the strongest predictor found in the large Danish cohort study was a head injury between the ages of 11 and 15 years old. Those with injuries during this time frame were found to be at high risk for the later development of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.

“Interestingly, it has been theorized that essential neurodevelopment occurs from 11 to 15 years of age, when deterioration in development can possibly lead to psychosis,” write lead researcher Sonja Orlovska (Copenhagen University) and colleagues.

The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, used nationwide registers to identify who among 1,438,339 people born between 1977 and 2000 suffered the 113,906 head injuries which lead to hospital visits. The researchers then followed up with these individuals for diagnoses of several mental illnesses made after the age of 10.

The highest level of risk was found in the year immediately following the injury, with risk tapering off in subsequent years. Severe head injuries were also far more likely to lead to psychiatric disorders than mild injuries or skull fractures.

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