Concussions Can Hamper Student-Athletes' Schoolwork as Well as Long-Term Cognitive Health
Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can be seen in some athletes who participate in sports such as football, soccer, boxing and wrestling that can cause traumatic brain injuries such as concussions. CTE is especially dangerous when an athlete has repetitive brain trauma that includes symptomatic concussions and asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy states that changes in the brain can start months after the last brain trauma is experienced or the end of athletic participation. These changes also may not show up until decades later.
However, two new studies shed additional light on the damage being done to the brain through these traumatic injuries. One of these studies looks at the short-term effect of concussions on student athletes. The second study focused on the longer-term effects of CTE on the athlete.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on new research out of New York University that suggests that the effects of a concussion may last long after the initial blow to the head. In fact, the brain changes caused by the concussion may continue for up to a year after the blow to the head, long after the symptom – the dizziness and the headaches – are gone.
Interestingly, the mental effort needed for normal classwork may worsen the concussion’s effects. Extra effort to focus on a mental activity can cause more severe headaches or dizziness. Additionally, students who have suffered a concussion may experience difficulty listening to lessons and taking tests. Another study out of the University of Oregon found that high school athletes who had a concussion experienced difficulty focusing amid distractions during the two months after suffering a concussion. They also had difficulty switching between tasks during that same period.
Therefore, cognitive issues caused by concussions can have a detrimental effect on grades, placement tests and SAT scores. And many school personnel are not sure how to deal with academic recovery in these cases, especially since concussions differ from person to person.
The Wall Street Journal also points out that approximately 80 percent of high school athletes and college athletes recover from a concussion by the three-week mark. However, younger athletes experience more lasting consequences from the brain trauma.
In the other study, researchers from Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy interviewed relatives of 36 former athletes who had died and whose brain had been autopsied to confirm that they suffered CTE. Most of these athletes were football players. The researchers also reviewed any available medical records for these athletes.
The researchers found that three of the athletes did not exhibit memory loss or mood disorders at the time of their deaths. However, two-thirds of the 33 remaining athletes could be categorized in the behavior/mood group. The researchers found that the first signs of CTE were seen when the athletes were in their mid-30s. These symptoms included depression, feelings of hopelessness, or violent/explosive behavior.
The 11 other former athletes showed no symptoms until they were in their late 50s. At that point, they developed impaired thinking and memory function, thus causing the researchers to place these athletes into the cognition group.
Experts are hoping that future studies will focus on current athletes in order to determine how CTE progresses. This progression would include the head injuries, mood or memory changes, and actually changes to the brain as seen through brain scans and autopsies. Learning about this continuum will help researchers have a clearer picture of how the disease progresses as well as to understand treatment options and possibilities for prevention.
These two studies reinforce why it’s important for athletes who are involved in contact sports to take proactive measures (such as learning to tackle properly in football) to protect their brains. Furthermore, these studies underscore why everyone should be aware of the signs of a concussion – and take the appropriate steps to help an athlete who is believed to have suffered one.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. (nd). What is CTE?
Hotz, R. L. (2013). Repercussions in school from concussions on the field. Wall Street Journal.
Pittman, G. (2013). Study gives clues on course of CTE in athletes. MedlinePlus.
Stern, R. A., (2013). Clinical presentation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Neurology.