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Study Finds Similar Abnormalities in the Brains of Concussion, Alzheimer's Patients

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh has found similar brain abnormalities in concussion and Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Saaed Fakran, an assistant professor of neuroradiology at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the study, said it's too early to make any conclusions based on this research, but he hopes to follow up on it.

The study looked at concussion patients ranging in age from 12 to 28 who have had some sort of trauma, persistent abnormality but have a conventional CT and MRI.

They looked at the brain using a tool called diffusion tensor imaging, that specifically looks at white matter in the brain. White matter is what connects different regions of the brain and allows different parts of the brain to communicate with each other and holds knowledge.  

“So we look there and you see this is where the white matter is disrupted, where the white matter is abnormal," Fakran said. "And with these different areas of the brain, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, the hippocamp is where these two classes of patients had similar white matter abnormalities."

The changes they saw mirror those they have seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

They also found some diagnostic similarities.

One of the areas they looked at was of patients with sleep-wake disturbances, also one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's. They also share auditory dysfunction, when they listen to people they can’t filter out white noise.

“There is some clinical overlap in these two groups of patients as well as what we see on imagining,” Fakran said.

Researchers didn’t look at pathological changes.

“We were looking at people with one concussion," Fakran said. "We were looking at Little Jimmy who plays football and just got hit in the head one time, and he was having these changes on this specific form of imaging that kind of looked like Alzheimer's, which to me is kind of scary."

Fakran said he hopes this is a first step and they hope to flesh this out more, following the patients closely over time.

The study was published in this month’s Radiology.