Head Impacts In Contact Sports Could Stunt Learning

Aside from brain damage and neck injury, traumatic brain injury can also affect a person’s ability to learn, remember, balance, and coordinate. New research looks at brain injury and learning ability.

When it comes to concussions, one can never be too careful when taking all the necessary precautions to ensure a full recovery. A concussion is the most common form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is usually considered as a head injury that results in a temporary loss of brain function.1 Effects from concussions are usually temporary, but can include problems such as headache, lack of concentration, and loss of memory, judgment, balance, and/or coordination. Every concussion that someone incurs injures the brain to some extent.2

Concussions are prevalent in contact sports such as hockey and football, and thanks to better understanding and knowledge of the possible severity of head impacts on overall brain health, new rules and regulations are being implemented in contact sports to help prevent them from occurring as much as possible. If head impacts were not already bad enough, a new study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology suggests that head impacts experienced during contacts sports may worsen college athlete’s ability to learn new information.

The study was performed on Division I college athletes, at three different schools. A comparison was made between 214 athletes who were involved in contact sports, to 45 athletes who participated in non-contact sports (i.e. track, skiing, etc.). Those who participated in contact sports wore a special helmet that recorded head impact data. Contact sport participants received on average 469 head impacts during the duration of their season. Those who experienced a concussion during the season were not included in the data. All athletes performed various memory and thinking skills before and after their season.3

While the test differences did not show too much of a difference between the contact and non-contact sport participants, it was discovered that a higher percentage of the contact sports athletes had lower scores on a measure of new learning after the season compared to that of the non-contact sport athletes. In fact, 22% of the contact sport athletes performed worse than anticipated on the test of new learning, compared to a mere 4% of the non-contact sport athletes.4

Fortunately, the study did not find differences in test results between the contact and non-contact sport athletes at the beginning of the season. Consequently, this may mean that the cumulative head impacts that were experienced over multiple seasons did not result in reduced thinking and memory skills. One thing to also note that was pointed out by Thomas W. McAllister, MD, of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is the fact the some people may be more sensitive to head impacts than others.5

This study reiterates a lot of what we already know about head impacts in the fact that they can be very serious. Now that we know that head impacts and/or concussions can have lasting effects on both short and long term memory, thinking, and learning skills, it is even more important that we take all measures possible to avoid them from occurring.5