Athens, Ga. – With questions about sports concussions centered on whether and when athletes who sustain concussions should return to on-field action, little data exists to evaluate longer-term consequences of sports-related concussions. A new University of Georgia study hopes to address the issue.
A team of researchers led by Stephen Miller, a professor in the department of psychology and director of the Bio-Imaging Research Center, is investigating how the effects of past sports-related concussive injuries at a high school age may influence performance years later. The study, currently under way, is testing persons and looking for more volunteers in their mid-40s to early 60s who did or did not sustain concussions at these early times in their lives—at 18, 19 or 20 years of age.
The researchers need volunteers who did not sustain concussions to serve as a control group.
The new study builds on data Miller and his graduate students Douglas Terry and Carlos Faraco published recently in the journal Brain Injury, which found minimal differences in cognitive function between two closely matched groups of young athletes.
“The interpretation of the first study is that after at least six months of time, one should expect few if any differences between the cognitive performance of concussed and non-concussed athletes. This may suggest a more realistic view of concussion recovery over time than is sometimes portrayed in the media,” Miller said. “But clearly with a concussion there is some cognitive change, though it is very short lived. The challenge now is to develop a better picture of what the impacts are 20, 30 or 40 years later.”
The published study compared brain responsiveness to cognitive tasks using functional neuroimaging and neuropsychological assessments of 20 male athletes who had suffered two or more concussions at least six months after their injury with 20 athletes who had suffered no injury.
All subjects in the study were volunteers with injuries resulting from a variety of different sports, but the majority was club rugby players. The assessments included fMRI scanning where the subjects performed a version of a color-word Stroop test, which is an interference task; an operation-span working memory test; and a simple motor speed finger-tapping task.
“Our data suggests that in these healthy, young adults who are at the peaks of their physical performance, comparable performance with non-concussed participants occurs,” said Stephen Miller, professor in the department of psychology and director of the Bio-Imaging Research Center from whose lab the study was conducted. “Nevertheless, very little information is out there in the world about whether those concussions, which at this moment don’t seem to have an impact, don’t impact them somewhere down the road.”
Most neuropsychological measures were similar between groups, though accuracy was reduced in the concussed group on the working memory task. Contrary to expectations by the research team and previous studies that have looked more at more acute effects of sports concussions, there were no group differences in neural activation on any of the functional neuroimaging tasks. This suggests that acute differences found in other studies may dissipate over time.
For members of the public interested in taking part in the study testing persons in their mid-40s to early 60s, contact Miller at the Neuropsychology and Memory Assessment Laboratory at 110 Hooper St., 706/542-3076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional authors on the Brain Injury study were Devin Smith of Georgia Regents University, Max J. Diddams of Carleton College and Antonio N. Puente of UGA. For an abstract of the journal article, see http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/02699052.2012.722259.