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Alzheimer’s Dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury


The August Festivities in the BVI is a glorious occasion for BVIslanders and visitors alike.  However even before the season kicks over, caution on the road is priority if we are to remain safe.  We want our loved ones to remain safe.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain caused by an external physical force Acquired brain injury is not hereditary or congenital. Brain injury is a public health concern, but most people do not know about brain injury or recognize the consequences or how persons are affected. Like dementia, the only cure for brain injury is prevention. The most common presentation of dementia is memory loss which is progressive and affects daily life.  Short term memory loss is mainly affected and is evident by individuals repeating themselves in conversations or asking the same questions repeatedly. Although this is usually the first symptom recognized by families, research shows that in fact, personality changes or mood disturbances, particularly in the older persons, may in fact be precursor symptoms to dementia. As the disease progresses, the person living with dementia eventually loses the ability to function.

To bring emphasis, The Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association hosted a successful event in June to bring attention to the effect of music on the brain and its use in individuals living with the disease. Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia, which are neurocognitive diseases of the brain which result in affected persons losing cognitive functions over a period. Alzheimer’s dementia is progressive and results eventually in death. There is no known cure for dementia although there are therapies which can slow the progression of the disease and, especially in cases diagnosed early, allows the affected individual to function for a longer period independently. Risk reduction and prevention are important strategies to decrease the chances of developing dementia.

. Some simple facts about traumatic brain injuries:

  • Traumatic brain injury results in 1 times more death each year than AIDS
  • More than 50% of all motor vehicular accidents resulting in TBI involves alcohol use (USA) • In the BVI, scooter injuries and motor vehicular accidents are significant contributors to TBI • TBI are not generally well recognized and can be easily overlooked

Some of the causes of TBI are falls, motor vehicle accidents, collisions during contact sports. Medical conditions where there is interruption of blood flow to the brain such as heart attacks, stroke, or where there is infection to the brain can also result in acquired brain injury. Some of the symptoms of brain injury include disorientation, foggy memory, headaches, dizziness and nausea, impaired speech and delayed responses to questions. There may also be impaired decision making, problem solving and or problems with planning and other executive functions. However, with more severe injury, and depending on the location of the injury, the effects will be complex and vary from person to person.

Finally, there is recent evidence which suggests that there is a link between traumatic brain injury and dementia, but that link is complex in pathology. Suffice it to say that individuals who have any brain injury, are at risk for developing a dementia like picture where the symptoms are similar. Currently it is thought that this is due to a complex interaction between blood supply disruptions in the brain and various inflammatory processes that can be a trigger for the changes.

In either instance, THE PREVENTION MESSAGE IS THE ONLY CURE. We must know our risk for developing medical conditions that may lead to acquired brain injury as well as risk factors for dementia. Have you been diagnosed with any chronic disease such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol conditions, or have a family history of any of these conditions? Then active risk reduction is critical.  Sedentary lifestyles, poor dietary practices, poor stress management and poor sleep practices are all contributory to acquired brain injury and or dementia. Do you engage in high contact sports, boxing, football, or any other activity where head injuries are possible? Then protection of your heads (brains) will decrease the risk of head injury.

While treatment for both conditions is different and interventions are necessary after diagnosis to improve the outcome and the quality of care and life post diagnosis, life after a brain injury or dementia diagnosis is not the same and affects not only the individual, but also the family. Let us all do all we can to decrease our risk and encourage our families and friends to join in this fight to bring awareness to these conditions.


Dr. June M. Samuel MBBS, DM (Psych) is a Consultant Psychiatrist in the BVI.  She has a private practice Five Doctors Medical and Wellness Center, a Mind Body Center that focuses on wellness interventions and evaluations for all ages.