Study finds head impacts in contact sports may reduce learning in college athletes

A new study suggests that head impacts experienced during contact sports such as football and hockey may worsen some college athletes' ability to acquire new information. The research is published in the May 16, 2012, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved at three Division I schools and compared 214 athletes in to 45 athletes in non-contact sports such as track, crew and Nordic skiing at the beginning and at the end of their seasons. The contact sport athletes wore special helmets that recorded the acceleration speed and other data at the time of any .

The contact sport athletes experienced an average of 469 head impacts during the season. Athletes were not included in the study if they were diagnosed with a during the season.

All of the athletes took tests of thinking and memory skills before and after the season. A total of 45 contact sport athletes and 55 non-contact sport athletes from one of the schools also took an additional set of tests of concentration, and other skills.

"The good news is that overall there were few differences in the test results between the athletes in contact sports and the athletes in non-contact sports," said study author Thomas W. McAllister, MD, of The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, N.H. "But we did find that a higher percentage of the contact sport athletes had lower scores than would have been predicted after the season on a measure of new learning than the non-contact sport athletes."

A total of 22 percent of the contact sport athletes performed worse than expected on the test of new learning, compared to four percent of the non-contact sport athletes.

McAllister noted that the study did not find differences in test results between the two groups of athletes at the beginning of the season, suggesting that the cumulative head impacts that contact athletes had incurred over many previous seasons did not result in reduced thinking and in the overall group.

"These results are somewhat reassuring, given the recent heightened concern about the potential negative effects of these sports," he said. "Nevertheless, the findings do suggest that repetitive head impacts may have a negative effect on some athletes."

McAllister said it's possible that some people may be genetically more sensitive to head impacts.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Think twice before knee surgery, study warns

Mar 27, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- A La Trobe University study has shown that after knee reconstruction surgery, around 40 per cent of people do not return to their previous level of sports participation.

Recommended for you

New learning mechanism for individual nerve cells

2 hours ago

The traditional view is that learning is based on the strengthening or weakening of the contacts between the nerve cells in the brain. However, this has been challenged by new research findings from Lund University in Sweden. ...

USC memory scientist Richard Thompson dies at 84

18 hours ago

Richard F. Thompson, the University of Southern California neuroscientist whose experiments with rabbits led to breakthrough discoveries on how memories are physically stored in the brain, has died. He was 84.

Modeling shockwaves through the brain

19 hours ago

Since the start of the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 300,000 soldiers have returned to the United States with traumatic brain injury caused by exposure to bomb blasts—and in particular, ...

User comments