Sports-related head injuries are a growing concern, and new research suggests that even less forceful actions like 'heading' a soccer ball may cause changes in performance on certain cognitive tasks, according to a paper published February 27 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Anne Sereno and colleagues from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
The researchers tested the effects of non-injurious head-to-ball impacts on cognitive function using a tablet-based app. They found that high school female soccer players were significantly slower than non-players on a task that required pointing away from a target on the screen, but showed no difference in performance when pointing to the on-screen visual target.
According to the study, tasks that involve pointing away from a target require specific voluntary responses, whereas moving toward a target is a more reflexive response. Based on their observations, the authors conclude that sub-concussive blows to the head may cause changes specifically linked to certain cognitive functions. The authors say that the app used in their research may be a quick and effective way to screen for and track cognitive changes in athletes. They add that a tablet-based application for such quick screens may also have broader applications in the clinic or the field.
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Zhang MR, Red SD, Lin AH, Patel SS, Sereno AB (2013) Evidence of Cognitive Dysfunction after Soccer Playing with Ball Heading Using a Novel Tablet-Based Approach. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57364. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057364