Sports head injuries and memory problems

An athlete's ability to remember could be significantly impacted as a result of head impacts. This is the suggestion of new research published in the journal Neurology, which found collisions of this kind can have marked cognitive effects among young people taking part in college sports.

Carried out at Dartmouth College, the investigation revealed 22 per cent of students who participated in contact activities scored much lower on memory and learning skills assessments than previously expected.

This was considerably higher than the four per cent of pupils who did not play sports and were similarly affected.

Thomas McAllister, Millennium Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Neuropsychiatry in the Geisel School of Medicine at the learning institute, noted, however, that the results did not take into account any long-term effects.

He stated: "The good news is that overall there were few differences in the test results between the athletes in contact sports and the athletes in non-contact sports."

Huw Williams, Associate Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology and Co-Director of the Centre for Clinical Neuropsychology Research at the University of Exeter, says:

"This is a very interesting study that has important implications for anyone involved in contact sports. Clearly, as the authors point out, it is reassuring that there was no noticeable cumulative effects of blows to the head in overall groups.

"But there was a sub-group of participants in contact sports who did show decrements in performance on learning new information. This was not, they note, due to identified 'concussions'. On average the participants in contact sports took over 400 hits to the head. This suggests there may be some form of subconcussive mechanism underlying this effect. Such mechanisms have been implicated in neuroimaging studies in contact sports and in studies with animal models.

"This highlights the need for neurocognitive testing in contact sports for monitoring player safety, appropriate advice and follow up of any that may be affected, and further clinical neuroscience research to identify key risk factors for injury and for recovery."