Parkinson’s Disease Linked to Head Trauma and Brain Injury

Approximately 28 percent of individuals injured in auto accidents, including those in New York, suffer from a traumatic brain injury every year. And, many more individuals all across the country experience mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI). Also known as concussions, MTBIs can lead to memory loss, migraines and personality changes. However, studies indicate there may be a correlation between this type of injury and serious neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease (PD).

According to a 2003 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, individuals who have suffered head trauma are four times more likely to develop PD than those who haven’t experienced any type of head injury. Further, patients who have been hospitalized for head trauma are eight times as likely, and those who experienced severe head injury are 11 times more likely to develop PD.

Lead author and Mayo Clinic neurologist, James Bower, M.D., found the results unexpected. “I was surprised by the strength of the association. I was also surprised that the average head trauma was about 20 years before the start of the disease.” Bower and his team were quick to point out, however, that it is not a guarantee that those who experience head injuries will develop PD.

Symptoms and Treatment of PD

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition affecting the body’s nervous system that controls movement. First indications of the disease may include a slight tremor in the hand, a lack of facial expression or even mumbling speech. However, as time passes, the symptoms become more pronounced and widespread. These may include:

  • Tremors and shaking
  • Slowed voluntary movement
  • Rigid, stiff muscles
  • Stooped posture
  • Poor balance
  • Speech changes
  • Dementia

Currently, there is no cure for PD, but treatment options exist. Most often, medication is prescribed to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. These help to increase the brain’s supply of dopamine which leads to improved management of problems with tremors, movement and walking. Physical therapy is often an important part of PD treatment to improve muscle tone and range of motion. For advanced Parkinson’s cases, deep-brain stimulation surgery is recommended.

Preventing Head Trauma

As with any traumatic brain injury, prevention is the best treatment. To avoid the spine, neck and head injuries that may be linked to Parkinson’s disease, it is crucial to use safety equipment properly at home, work or in the car. That includes making sure headrests are at appropriate heights and seatbelts are fastened.

If and when an injury does occur, it is important to promptly seek a thorough medical evaluation and follow through with the prescribed treatment plan. If injured in an auto accident, it may also be helpful to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help work through insurance claims and assess options available under the law.

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