Blows to the Head, Not Just Concussions, Can Seriously Impair Ability to Learn, Think

If your son or daughter is thinking of going out for a contact sport, you -- and they -- might want to think again.

Concussions have been in the news lately, mostly because, in the past, it was not known they could be responsible for depression, possibly Alzheimer's, even death. Today we know all that but a new study has found that "Even in the absence of a concussion, blows to the head during a single season of football or ice hockey may affect the brain’s white matter and cognition, or memory and thinking abilities," according to

“We found differences in the white matter of the brain in these college contact sport athletes compared to non-contact sport varsity athletes,” the Web site quotes study author Thomas W. McAllister, MD, of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “The degree of white matter change in the contact sport athletes was greater in those who performed more poorly than expected on tests of memory and learning, suggesting a possible link in some athletes between how hard/often they are hit, white matter changes, and cognition, or memory and thinking abilities.”

In the study of both contact and non-contact athletes, 20 percent of the contact players and 11 percent of the non-contact athletes scored more than 1.5 standard deviations below the predicted score, notes. 

McAllister said that a decline this large would usually be found in less than seven percent of the normal population.  The damage happens to nerves the ones that connect the right and left sides of the brain.

Does this mean no one should play contact sports?  Certainly not. But it does mean that if you get a head injury, don't go right back in the game.  There's a scary scenario called Second Impact Syndrome, which can occur and cause death if a person with a concussion gets another one -- often, sadly, common in contact sports -- before the first has healed.


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