Repeated concussions can have a long-lasting impact on the brain, according to University of Nebraska researchers.
A study of athletes with and without a history of concussions found those who had the brain trauma at least a year ago, took more time completing decision-making or memory tasks.
Dennis Molfese, the Mildred Francis Thompson Professor in Social Sciences at UNL, says the results show symptoms may fade, but a disability remains.
“If we test those same athletes over three years, what we find is that the brain processing hasn’t gone back to what it was when we first tested those individuals who did not have any brain damage,” Molfese tells Nebraska Radio Network. “So what we’re seeing, it seems to be after three or four years, a permanent, lasting change.”
That slower response time is due to a rewiring of the brain’s pathways, which seems to be irreversible.
“The brain was not using the same networks to move information from point A to point B,” Molfese explains. “If you had a concussion history, the brain is operating differently, taking longer to process the information.”
Molfese says a small number of athletes do not sustain the same type of brain damage.
He says future research will investigate their genetic resilience.
But at greater risk are teenage athletes playing a contact sport who suffer a concussion.
“That’s the rest of their life. They’re not going to get any better,” Molfese says. “In terms of being able to process information more quickly, absorb it, or perform better in school, if they’re not better in six months, the likelihood of them being better in one year or two years, is not great.”
He says researchers are beginning to look into how to identify someone’s risk for concussion and how to better diagnose a concussion for those who are not unconscious.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:43]