The long term effects of banging heads on the field

Sportsmen who suffer concussion in early adulthood may experience long-term reduction in brain function well into later life, according to a study released this week.

Although the study had only 40 participants, it is striking as it looked at the effects 30 years after the original concussions and used a wide and diverse range of tests for cognitive and neurological function, the majority of which showed some level of impairment.

This comes in the same week that Boston University School of Medicine reported that former American football player, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tom McHale, was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by head trauma, when he died in 2008 at the age of 45.

CNN has a good write-up of the news with photos and images of the long-term effects of persistent sports concussion and we covered the work of Dr Bennet Oamlu, who does post-mortems on cognitively impaired American football players, back in 2007.

Repititive sports concussion is now recognised as having a significant neurological impact and has also been found in rugby and boxing.

Interestingly, ex-professional football players (known as soccer players to Americans and other football philistines) probably have higher levels of dementia and there is an ongoing debate about whether this is due to the low level impact of heading the ball.

Some think it is, other think it might be due to the fact footballers consume a lot of alcohol, and so the higher levels of dementia just might be wear and tear from all the booze.

Link to full text of long-term sports concussion study.
Link to CNN on sports concusion and dementia (via NeuronCulture).