Apr 4, 2016
Study Ties Cognitive Changes to Accumulated Hits

Although the authors stress that the results are preliminary and more research is needed, a new study suggests that the more hits to the head an amateur football player takes, the greater the risk of cognitive impairment in later life. According to a story by The Associated Press, the study is the first to look at the relationship between the total number of accumulated head impacts and subsequent mental changes.

Conducted by researchers at Boston University and appearing online ahead of publication in the Journal of Neurotrauma, the study, titled Cumulative Head Impact Exposure Predicts Later-Life Depression, Apathy, Executive Dysfunction, and Cognitive Impairment in Former High School and College Football Players, calculated how many head hits 93 former football players suffered based on the length of their careers and the positions they played. It found that after a threshold of impacts is reached, the risk of cognitive and emotional impairment increases with the number of hits to the head.

Still, one of the authors, Dr. Robert Stern, cautions against reading too much into the study’s results.

“This is not meant to be, ‘If you get hit a certain number of times, you will have problems.’ That’s not how this can be interpreted,” he said. “It is important in that it starts to answer some questions. But by no means is it a definitive study. It is very preliminary.”

Stern also commented that although the introduction of defined return-to-play guidelines and other improvements in concussion management have been beneficial, more attention needs to be paid to the effect of subconcussive impacts.

“All those changes have been extremely important,” he said. “That said, my strong feeling is that we also have to focus on the hits that don’t get diagnosed as concussions. These repetitive subconcussive hits add up tremendously.”

The researchers suggest that future studies should examine the relationship between head-impact and CTE as well as other possible risk factors, including genetics, nutrition, and performance-enhancing drugs.

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