New research has discovered that pre-adolescent children who have sustained sports-related concussions have impaired brain function two years following injury.
More than one million brain injuries are treated annually in the U.S. While organized sports at all levels have implemented safety protocols for preventing and treating head injuries, most pediatric concussions still result from athletic activities.
“Our data indicate that children who sustain a concussion demonstrate deficits in brain function and cognitive performance approximately two years after injury, relative to others their age who do not have a history of mild traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Charles Hillman, a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The study included 30 eight to 10-year-old children who are active in athletics. Fifteen of the children were recruited two years after a sports-related concussion, while the other 15 had no history of concussion.
The researchers assessed the children’s ability to update and maintain memory, as well as pay attention and inhibit responses when instructed to do so. The researchers also analyzed electrical signals in the brain while the children performed some of these cognitive tests. With the brain signals, they were able to measure how each child’s brain performed the tests.
The study found that children with a history of concussion performed worse on tests of working memory, attention and impulse control. This impaired performance was also reflected in differences in the electric signals in the injured children’s brains.
The researchers also discovered that children who had concussions earlier in life had the largest deficits.
“These data are an important first step toward understanding sustained changes in brain function and cognition that occur following childhood concussion,” Hillman said. “Our study suggests the need to find ways to improve cognitive and brain health following a head injury, in an effort to improve lifelong brain health and effective functioning.”
The study was published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.