Premature cognitive decline in specific domains found in young veterans with mTBI coincide with elder normative scores and advanced-age subjects with early-stage Parkinson's disease

Vicki A. Nejtek, Rachael N. James, Michael F. Salvatore, Helene M. Alphonso, Gary W. Boehm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Importance: Epidemiologists report a 56% increased risk of veterans with (+) mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) developing Parkinson's disease (PD) within 12-years post-injury. The most relevant contributors to this high risk of PD in veterans (+) mTBI is unknown. As cognitive problems often precede PD diagnosis, identifying specific domains most involved with mTBI-related PD onset is critical. Objectives: To discern which cognitive domains underlie the mTBI-PD risk relationship proposed in epidemiology studies. Design and setting: This exploratory match-controlled, cross-sectional study was conducted in a medical school laboratory from 2017-2020. Participants: Age- and IQ-matched veterans with (+) and without mTBI, non-veteran healthy controls, and IQ-matched non-demented early-stage PD were compared. Chronic neurological, unremitted/ debilitating diseases, disorders, dementia, and substance use among others were excluded. Exposure: Veterans were or were not exposed to non-penetrating combat-related mTBI occurring within the past 7-years. No other groups had recent military service or mTBI. Main outcomes / measures: Cognitive flexibility, attention, memory, visuospatial ability, and verbal fluency were examined with well-known standardized neuropsychological assessments. Results: Out of 200 volunteers, 114 provided evaluable data. Groups significantly differed on cognitive tests [F (21,299) = 3.09, p<0.0001]. Post hoc tests showed veterans (+) mTBI performed significantly worse than matched-control groups on four out of eight cognitive tests (range: p = .009 to .049), and more often than not performed comparably to early-stage PD (range: p = .749 to .140). Conclusions and relevance: We found subtle, premature cognitive decline occurring in very specific cognitive domains in veterans (+) mTBI that would typically be overlooked in a clinic setting, This result potentially puts them at-risk for continual cognitive decline that may portend to the eventual onset of PD or some other neurodegenerative disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0258851
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume16
Issue number11 November
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2021

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