Can Concussions Spark Aging?

Head injuries can disrupt neural pathways which could promote cognitive decline

(RxWiki News) What is the long-term price of bumps on the head and concussions? Could they contribute to premature mental aging by breaking down neural pathways?

A recent study tested students with and without a history of concussion.

Students in the concussion group tested slightly less sharp than the non-concussion group.

"Protect your head from all possible injuries."

Steven Broglio, PhD, assistant professor and director of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory at the School of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan, led an investigation into whether head injuries cause aging in the brain.

For the study, researchers looked at two groups of college students, those with and those without a history of concussion in the last six years.

They were tested for balance, gait and how their brain activity worked in relation to attention and impulse control.

Students were asked to do tasks on a computer while images of their brains were taken.

Results showed slight differences between the two groups.

Researchers suggested environmental factors such as alcohol, smoking, exercise and having intellectual challenges could also factor into how much cognitive decline could occur.

Dr. Broglio said, “The last thing we want is for people to panic. Just because you’ve had a concussion does not mean your brain will age more quickly or you’ll get Alzheimer’s.”

“We are only proposing how being hit in the head may lead to these other conditions, but we don’t know how it all goes together just yet.”

“What we don’t know is if you had a single concussion in high school, does that mean you will get dementia at age 50? Clinically, we don’t see that. What we think is that it will be a dose response.”

“So, if you played soccer and sustained some head impacts and maybe one concussion, then you may have a little risk.”

“If you went on and played in college and took more head balls and sustained two more concussions, you’re probably at a little bigger risk.”

“Then if you play professionally for a few years, and take more hits to the head, you increase the risk even more. We believe it’s a cumulative effect.”

Further research will be necessary to assess how cognitive decline and aging in people with a history of concussion in mid- and later-life ages.

This study was published in July in Exercise and Sport Science Reviews. No outside funding was used for this study and no conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
August 8, 2012