Brain Degeneration From Concussion

Written By: David Burns

I didn’t play professional football, so I’m safe from issues related to sports concussions and associated brain degeneration concerns. Right? WRONG!

A recent study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex revealed brain changes in “otherwise healthy former athletes with concussions”. They associated their findings with the long-term detrimental effects that sports concussions can have on cognitive function.

An article in The New York Times, by Gretchen Reynolds entitled “Head Injuries and the Everyday Athlete” elaborates on the Cerebral Cortex study. The article notes that the subjects were middle aged athletes who reported suffering a concussion while playing college sports. In the study, diagnostic tests showed a difference in both brain function and physical brain changes between those who had reported concussion and those who had not. Those with a sports concussion history were reported to be suffering from “abnormal aging”.  

As pointed out in the New York Times article, it is not just the middle aged former athletes that need to be concerned. In the article a Dr. Broglio, who has extensively studied concussions in college students, and possible links between sports-related concussions and premature brain aging, was referenced. It was noted that these young college athletes exhibited changes in concentration, balance and motor control years after experiencing concussions. It has been my clinical experience that individuals like this, while suffering from these sorts of functional deficits, may not be complaining of symptoms and/or may not relate any symptom or functional deficit to a history of concussion.

So concussions and the deleterious long term effects are not just an issue for pro-athletes. The reality is most of us have suffered from some traumatic brain injury. The traumatic brain injury or concussion suffered, may have been while playing sports, from a car accident or otherwise. Certainly anybody who has played a contact sport would be hard pressed to say that they have never had a concussion. Those who claim to have never suffered any traumatic brain injury while playing competitive contact sports may be misinformed about the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

So if most of us have suffered from at least one concussion in our lives, what should we do about it? While just ignoring the issue is common practice, it is not the most rational approach. In the article, a Dr. Guskiewicz points out that while we presently have a limited amount of science suggesting what a person with a history of concussion should do and that people should not worry too much, he recommends that “…it’s not a bad idea to do some brain training”.

This is in line with Brain Centers NW’s contentions, and it would seem that Dr. Guskiewicz would agree with Brain Centers NW’s approach to traumatic brain injury rehabilitation and brain health. That is, given the lack of research available, we are left to do the rational thing. And as he further points out doing brain training is good for everybody and “certainly can’t hurt”.

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