Do Even Minor Traumatic Brain Injuries Impair Learning Ability?

The Daily Rx took a look this week at the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injuries on young adults-particularly the damage caused by concussions in sports. This is certainly a hot topic these days as parents, coaches, trainers, athletic directors, and other involved parties seek to ensure that they are not placing young players in more dangerous situations than they initially suspect. Each Illinois brain injury lawyer at our firm understands the underappreciated consequences of even minor head trauma.

The new story explores a recent study that examined the long-term learning ability of players who experience concussions.

The research was conducted by a doctor of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. It involved following 214 NCAA Division I college athletes. The participants were athletes in the contact sports most closely associated with these injuries: football and ice hockey. Those athletes were then compared to athletes in non-contact sports to get a proper gauge on the actual long-term effect of participation in these physical sports. As part of the research effort the contact players worse special helmets that included data recordation devices to measure the “acceleration-time history of the head following impact.”

All participants-those in contact and non-contact sports-were measured before and after the effort with a cognitive screening battery test and a separate neuropsychological test battery. Together these tools are helpful ways to get an idea of the brain’s workings, speed, and accuracy on basic measures.

Our Chicago brain injury attorneys appreciate that one of the most interesting aspects of this research is that all those players in the study who suffered an actual concussion were disqualified from consideration. In other words, the entire focus of this effort was on the minor head contact that doesn’t rise to the level of a concussion.

What were the findings?

The short answer is that the findings were mixed. On one hand the cognitive difference between each group was nonexistent-there was no noticeable detriment for the contact athletes.

But the doctor leading the effort noted that they “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.

What does that mean?

It is hard to parse out exactly what the long-term harmful effects might be. There may be more detail available when the study is published in the next issue of the American Academy of Neurology. Essentially though, it seems that the finding suggest that there is no noticeable difference in most cognitive measures between those who play contact sports and non-contact sports. The only variable where there is a difference is on measures that seek to determine ability to learn new things. The article did not explain the size of the difference. However, the fact that there was any statistically significant difference at all is alarming.

Of course, each brain injury lawyer at our firm knows that it is important not to forget that these differences refer only to those who played contact sports and did not suffer a concussion. The consequences for those who actually suffer a concussion are clearly more far-reaching.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Public Waking Up to Cost, Severity, and Frequency of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic Brain Injury Initiative Announced by First Lady Obama

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