All traumatic events in our lives–from verbal, physical and emotional abuse to accidents, brain injury and PTSD – may play a role in future cognitive dysfunction.

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As the link between the mind and body becomes ever more understood, we are learning how different types of trauma, not just physical injury to the brain, can have life-altering effects on memory.  Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) have all been linked to dementia later in life.

When researchers looked at traumatic events experienced by children, also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE’s, those who reported having at least one ACE (and for many children there were multiple), had a greater likelihood of cognitive dysfunction in midlife, and a higher incidence of dementia in later life.

Group sports also begin at relatively young ages, and are often played throughout life.  It is not uncommon for children to get hit in the head with a ball or experience some type of head trauma from falling off a bike or when skating or skiing. While one hopes that children are resilient and recover, we now know that these events may have a cost, especially if sports are played through high school and into adulthood. There are many well-documented cases of professional football and soccer players developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder, can happen after a deeply threatening or scary event.  The aftermath may involve reliving the event or forgetting part or all of it.  Research shows that veterans with PTSD have a higher likelihood of developing dementia, and it is not uncommon for their PTSD symptoms to last years or decades. To complicate matters, those with PTSD often suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which would further increase the chance of developing dementia.

A single trauma to the brain may cause changes in brain tissue that eventually lead to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  The older one’s age when experiencing a TBI, the higher the likelihood that memory loss will accompany the injury.

If you or a loved one falls, is in a car accident, or experiences a head injury playing sports or through other means, seek medical attention immediately.  Treatment for TBI will vary based on the severity of the injuries.  A traditional medical approach for treating TBI includes acute care, surgery, rehabilitation (including physical and occupational therapy), cognitive behavioral counseling, and other interventions.

Integrative therapies known to help TBI and restore brain function include neurofeedback and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).  Acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy, meditation, and energy work have been used clinically but no empirical studies have been conducted.

Overcoming the effects of ACE’s often depends on a number of strategies that have been proven to promote good health – such as exercise, abstaining from smoking, access to emotional support and completing education at the high school level or higher.  The more strategies employed, the better the outcome.  Many therapists are specially trained to treat people who experienced childhood trauma.

PTSD is also best addressed by a professional with specialized training, as there is a wide range of treatments and therapies that are used.  If someone has experienced trauma of any kind, seek professional help. It may be a good idea to take a look at the research available to familiarize yourself with what has worked with different populations.  Like most of the causes of dementia, the sooner treatment is sought, the higher the likelihood that memory issues can be prevented, arrested, or at the very least, delayed.