The skull does a pretty good job of keeping the brain safe, but a hard enough impact can still cause severe damage. When getting hit in the head causes side effects such as a loss of balance, vision impairment, memory problems, and decreased mental clarity, it's known as a concussion.
Getting concussed once increases the odds of it happening again, with long-term effects including paralysis, loss of coordination, and mental health issues. Because this can impact a lifetime of health, the issue of concussions among young athletes has become a bigger conversation in recent years, raising questions like, How long a child should wait before returning to play after sustaining a head injury?
Researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center might be able to take some of the guesswork out of this complicated decision, as they have come up with a formula that is able to the predict long-term neurological consequences of concussions. The results of their work were published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.
To come up with their formula, the researchers analyzed 40 former professional football players. They analyzed their current brain health and compared it against the severity of concussions they sustained while playing, along with the symptoms they had at the time of injury.
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"The most important factor in determining the potential cognitive deficits from sports-related concussions was the football players' cognitive reserve," lead author Matthew Wright explained in a news release.
Cognitive reserve refers to the brain's ability to protect itself from damage, including dementia. This reserve decreases with age as well as with repeated injury. However, some concussion symptoms seem to have a larger effect than others.
"We also found that post-traumatic amnesia after a concussion was a more significant predictor of later cognitive deficits than the loss of consciousness," Wright continued.
This study doesn't offer a cut-and-dry time for how long the body takes to recover, but it does offer a good place to start for creating or revising policies on how long players should recuperate before engaging in physical activity again. This could also be used in assessing how effective post-concussion therapies are.
Despite the fact that the number of children playing sports is going down, the number of concussions is going up, doubling over the last decade. It isn't clear why this correlation exists, but it might be that as awareness about concussions grows, they are more likely to be reported.
Understanding more about how concussions affect players in the long run can help develop policies and protective gear that will keep children in the game and stay safe while they do it.
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