A joint study by the University of Oxford and University of Exeter has found that three or more concussion are linked with “worse brain functions in later life”. The study conducted tests on more than 15,000 participants, aged between 50 and 90 in the UK. Those participants disclosed the amount of concussions they had suffered in their lives and then completed annual computerized tests for brain function.
The study, which has been published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, showed that people who reported three or more concussions had “significantly worse cognitive function”. Furthermore, the study showed that cognitive function got worse with each subsequent concussion suffered by the participant.
The areas of cognitive function most affected by the concussions were attention and completion of complex tasks.
Participants who reported four or more mild concussions were shown to struggle with processing speed capacity and working memory. Participants who reported a single moderate-to-serve concussion were shown to struggle with attention, completion of complex tasks and processing speed.
“We know that head injuries are a major risk factor for dementia, and this large-scale study gives the greatest detail to date on a stark finding – the more times you injure your brain in life, the worse your brain function could be as you age,” said lead researcher Dr. Vanessa Raymont.
“Our research indicates that people who have experienced three or more even mild episodes of concussion should be counselled on whether to continue high-risk activities. We should also encourage organisations operating in areas where head impact is more likely to consider how they can protect their athletes or employees.”
Concussion is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that are typically seen after someone sustains a blow to the head. Those symptoms include, but are not limited to, confusion, loss of consciousness, light sensitivity, vertigo, memory loss and nausea.
The injury itself is referred to as a mild traumatic brain injury or mTBI. It is possible to sustain an mTBI without presenting any typical symptoms of concussion.
These injuries are caused when the brain rotates within the skull. This happens when someone’s head has been struck and their head turns to one side violently, like when a fighter is struck on the chin.
That rotation of the brain causes a protein known as tau to leak from parts of the brain, regardless if concussion symptoms are also present. Lose tau corrodes vital structures within the brain.
This damage leads to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Tau also causes Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
CTE causes symptoms such as depression, aggression and increased risk of suicidality.
Athletes in sports such as MMA, American Football, Association Football and Rugby have all been diagnosed with CTE post-mortem.
There is no known cure for CTE.
About the author: Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. (full bio)
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