An article in this week’s New York Times blog discussed the findings of a recent study of now middle-aged people who had sustained concussions in their youth.
The long-lasting effects of concussion may have been subtle to the individuals, themselves, but the results of the study spoke volumes to the scientists conducting it.
Researchers from the University of Montreal studied a group of people who’d played high school or college sports 30 years before, some of whom had sustained concussions. In the years since, they remained physically active but had stopped competing. None had complained of failing memory or other impairments more than any other average 50- to 60-year-old.
But, after being given a series of MRI scans to measure the volume of brain segments and the metabolic health of certain neurons, as well as cognitive written and verbal tests, those volunteers who had suffered concussions in their youth were found to have just a little bit more trouble recalling events, words and names more than the volunteers who’d never received a concussion.
Some of those who had been hit in the head in the decades prior were found to have slightly less volume in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning, while others had thinner cortexes, metabolic slowing or cell abnormalities.
The researchers found that the 50-year-old study participants who had been hit in the head had brains that were structurally and metabolically similar to those of uninjured 60-year-olds.
We could conclude that, even with an active lifestyle, people who have received concussions as children could end up having brain function that is older than their chronological age.
Dr. Kevin M. Guskiewicz, chairman of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggests that everyone, whether having sustained concussions or not, exercise their brain to overcome the effects of cognitive aging. “Exercise. Do puzzles. Read. Learn new things. Those are all good for your brain anyway,” he says.