Football players’ brains uncover new insight on concussions
A new study of collegiate football players found that players who had suffered a concussion or had been playing the sport for many years had smaller hippocampal volume (an area of the brain crucial to memory) than those with fewer years of football experience. The study also found that more years of playing football was associated with slower reaction time.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain primarily associated with long- and short-term memory. Researchers have suggested that this part of the brain is particularly sensitive to moderate and severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Further, researchers also suggest that the hippocampus is also vulnerable to mild TBI, as indicated in this study by volume reduction and post-concussion abnormalities of hippocampus function. According to a release about the study, “There are limited data on the long-term anatomical and cognitive consequences of concussion and sub-concussive impacts on young athletes.”
The researchers used high-resolution MRI to quantify and compare the brain volumes of the athletes. They found that the hippocampal volumes in football players were smaller than the healthy control participants.
The researchers were careful to point out that the design of the study “limits our ability to dissociate among the many possible factors involved in these hippocampal volume findings.” Still, the threat of concussions especially among younger athletes is real, and many physicians urge parents to be cognizant of concussion signs and symptoms in their young athletes.
“Parents must be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion,” says Dr. Kathryn Talerico, a pediatrician with Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois. “Some of the warning signs that may surface in your child include their inability to focus or concentrate at school, headaches, nausea, or sensitivity to bright lights. The real key, though, is to make sure you have your child evaluated by a physician if you suspect they have a concussion.”
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