February 1, 2023

30-year study finds head injuries associated with 2 to 3 times higher mortality rates in adults


New research indicates that head injuries are associated with two to three times higher mortality rates in adults.


The 30-year-study, conducted by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that mortality rates among adults who experience moderate or severe head trauma were nearly three times higher than adults who never endured head injuries. It also found that any head injury, whether mild, moderate or severe, are linked to nearly two times the mortality rate of adults who have never injured their heads at all.


Published in the JAMA Neurology, the research found that over 23 million adults in the U.S., age 40 or older, reported a history of head injury with loss of consciousness, attributing causes such as unintentional falls, sports injuries, or car crashes. The research also correlated a series of long-term health conditions with various types of head trauma, including late-onset epilepsy, dementia and a higher risk of stroke.


Holly Elser, a neurology resident at Penn and one of the study’s lead author, said in a press release that the research “highlights the importance of safety measures, like wearing helmets and seatbelts, to prevent head injuries.”


Studies have previously shown increased short-term mortality associated with head injuries primarily among hospitalized patients, but this new study says the consequences of head injuries could extend those who had never been hospitalized for their head injuries.


“Investigators found that 18.4 percent of the participants reported one or more head injuries during the study period, and of those who suffered a head injury, 12.4 percent were recorded as moderate or severe. The median period of time between a head injury and death was 4.7 years,” explained the release.


Researchers also assessed the extensive data pertaining to specific causes of death for all participants – and the most common causes were cardiovascular disease, neurologic disorders (including dementia and epilepsy) and cancers. Participants with head injuries were shown to have more deaths related to neurologic disorders, according to the study.


Specific neurologic causes of death among participants with head injuries included neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which composed a larger proportion of overall deaths among those with head injury (14.2 per cent) versus those without (6.6 per cent).


Andrea Schneider, an assistant professor of Neurology at Penn, believes this study opens more questions about the nature of neurodegenerative diseases and their releationship with head injuries.


“Study data doesn’t explain why the cause of death in individuals with head injuries is more likely to be from neurodegenerative diseases, which underscores the need for further research into the relationship between these disorders, head injury, and death,” she said in the release.

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