Concussion dangers laid bare: Major new study warns just one can damage memory and brain power later in life
- The study of more than 15,000 Britons found the risk was cumulative
- This means that the more a person injures their brain, the worse it is for their brain.
A single severe concussion can damage memory and brain power later in life, major new research has revealed.
In the largest of its kind, researchers at the University of Oxford have found that three or more moderate brain injuries can have a long-term impact on attention span, memory and the ability to perform complex tasks.
The study of more than 15,000 Britons found the risk was cumulative, meaning the more a person suffers brain injury, the more their brain function could deteriorate as they age.
The findings will put more pressure on rugby’s governing bodies, already facing a class action lawsuit from former professional and amateur players over their historic treatment of concussions and brain injuries.
The study of more than 15,000 Britons found the risk was cumulative – meaning the more a person suffers brain injury, the more their brain function could deteriorate as they age.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Exeter studied data from the UK PROTECT study, which followed people for up to 25 years.
The participants, aged 50 to 90, reported the severity and frequency of concussions suffered throughout their lives and took annual computerized brain function tests.
It showed that people who reported three or more traumatic brain injuries had significantly worse cognitive function, which successively worsened with each concussion thereafter.
Lead researcher Dr Vanessa Raymont, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘We know that head trauma is a major risk factor for dementia.
“And this large-scale study provides the most detail yet on a stark discovery – the more you injure your brain in life, the more your brain function could deteriorate as you age.”
“Our research indicates that people who have had at least three concussion episodes, even mild ones, should be counseled on whether to continue with high-risk activities.”
“We should also encourage organizations operating in areas where head impact is more likely to consider how they can protect their athletes or employees.”
The team found that participants who reported three episodes of even mild concussion in their lifetime had significantly lower attention and ability to perform complex tasks.
Those who had four or more mild concussion episodes also showed worsened processing speed and working memory.
Each additional concussion reported was linked to progressively worsening cognitive function, they found.
But even a moderate-to-severe concussion was associated with worsened attention, complex task completion and processing speed ability, according to findings published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
Experts suggest that cognitive rehabilitation should focus on key functions such as attention and performing complex tasks, which they have found to be susceptible to long-term damage.
It comes less than a fortnight after the Rugby Football Union suffered a backlash after it banned tackles above the waist at community level from July.
Designed to reduce concussions, critics argue the law was rushed through without consultation or sufficient evidence that it will significantly reduce concussions in sport.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, research director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Studies like this are so important in unraveling the long-term risks of traumatic brain injury, including their effect on dementia risk.
“These findings should send a clear message to policy makers and sports bodies, who need to put in place strong guidelines that reduce the risk of head injury as much as possible.”