Concussions in Early Years Have Lasting Effects

Bike Helmet protects from head injury and concussions
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There is growing evidence that the injuries to the head, concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBI's) can have long-term effects on the brains ability to function. Repeated injuries have been shown to have accumulative effects. TBI's have been described as the most important environmental Alzheimer's disease risk factor in the general population.

A recent study by Louis De Beaumont and colleagues at the University of Montreal was just published in the journal Brain (and is available online). It compared a group of former athletes with no prior history of sports concussion to former athletes who had sustained their last sports concussion more than 30 years ago. Those athletes who had at least one concussion playing college-level sports had greater declines in attention and memory and a slowing of some movements more than 30 years later compared with those with no history of a concussion.

The findings back suspicions that early acute symptoms may not be the only effects of a TBI and bolsters accumulating evidence for chronic (or long term) subclinical effects.

The National Football League is conducting a study to look at the possibility of long-term effects in their athletes. Many of the former National Football League players have developed neurodegenerative defects after retiring with an apparent history of repeated concussions.

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De Beaumont and colleagues cautioned that the findings were limited by the retrospective self-reports used to determine history of sports concussion. Often sports concussions that occurred more than 30 years ago were overlooked by sports therapists unless there was loss of consciousness or post-traumatic amnesia.

De Beaumont said his group hopes to continue to follow athletes into their 70s to see whether their risk of Alzheimer's disease is elevated as would be expected from the largely subclinical effects seen in the study.

My Key Point:

With this growing body of evidence, it is important to protect your children's and your own head with helmets when:

* playing sports (football, baseball)
* riding bicycles, motor cycles, four-wheelers, etc
* skate boarding

Source reference:
Brain Function Decline in Healthy Retired Athletes who Sustained Their Last Sports Concussion in Early Adulthood; Brain 2009; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awn347; De Beaumont L, et al

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Comments

See this entry for an alternative view on this story, discussing how the conclusions are inconsistent with decades of prior research in this area that used stronger research designs, the many methodological flaws in the study, and how significant overgeneralizations have been made: Dominic A. Carone, PhD, ABPP-CN Founder: MTBIFacts.com