Association of Traumatic Brain Injury with Late Life Neuropathological Outcomes in a Community-Based Cohort

J Alzheimers Dis. 2023;93(3):949-961. doi: 10.3233/JAD-221224.


Background: Prior studies into the association of head trauma with neuropathology have been limited by incomplete lifetime neurotrauma exposure characterization.

Objective: To investigate the neuropathological sequelae of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in an autopsy sample using three sources of TBI ascertainment, weighting findings to reflect associations in the larger, community-based cohort.

Methods: Self-reported head trauma with loss of consciousness (LOC) exposure was collected in biennial clinic visits from 780 older adults from the Adult Changes in Thought study who later died and donated their brain for research. Self-report data were supplemented with medical record abstraction, and, for 244 people, structured interviews on lifetime head trauma. Neuropathology outcomes included Braak stage, CERAD neuritic plaque density, Lewy body distribution, vascular pathology, hippocampal sclerosis, and cerebral/cortical atrophy. Exposures were TBI with or without LOC. Modified Poisson regressions adjusting for age, sex, education, and APOE ɛ4 genotype were weighted back to the full cohort of 5,546 participants.

Results: TBI with LOC was associated with the presence of cerebral cortical atrophy (Relative Risk 1.22, 95% CI 1.02, 1.42). None of the other outcomes was associated with TBI with or without LOC.

Conclusion: TBI with LOC was associated with increased risk of cerebral cortical atrophy. Despite our enhanced TBI ascertainment, we found no association with the Alzheimer's disease-related neuropathologic outcomes among people who survived to at least age 65 without dementia. This suggests the pathophysiological processes underlying post-traumatic neurodegeneration are distinct from the hallmark pathologies of Alzheimer's disease.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; atrophy; dementia; neuropathology; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / complications
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / pathology
  • Death
  • Humans
  • Unconsciousness / complications