Written by Loren Grush
The effect that concussions and head injuries have on athletes has been a rising concern in the past few years. But does simply playing a contact sport have lasting repercussions on memory and cognition?
A new study published in the American Academy of Neurology has revealed that impacts to the head during contact sports like football and hockey may lead some athletes to experience a decrease in their abilities to remember things or acquire new information.
“We were interested to see if even if [these athletes] had not identified with having a concussion, maybe it affects some cognition from hitting their head over and over throughout the sports season,” Dr. Thomas McAllister, a professor of neurology at The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, N.H. and the study’s author, told FoxNews.com.
“In prior studies, we used helmets that monitor the frequency and magnitude of impacts,” McAllister said. “A lot of people have very hard hits that we can record that exceed the threshold at which you should have a concussion – but they don’t have the concussion. So it was reasonable to ask if they’re suffering this cognitive impairment.”
For this study, McAllister and his team monitored two groups of college athletes from three Division 1 schools – 214 athletes in contact sports and 45 athletes in non-contact sports. The contact sport athletes played either football or hockey, while the non-contact athletes played sports such as track, crew or Nordic skiing.
Each athlete took thinking and memory tests before and after their respective sports’ seasons. All of them took the imPACT test – a computer-based screening of attention that is widely used by colleges and sports teams to determine if players who have suffered from concussions are ready to return to play. A subset of the athletes took an even more extensive set of tests that measured concentration, memory and other skills.
In theory, the athletes should show improved results if no damage is happening to their heads.