As football has brought the long-term risks of brain injury into the limelight, it has helped researchers better explore and understand concussions through increased funding for research projects. However, most of the research has focused on high-school-aged or older athletes.
Unfortunately, that means one of the groups most vulnerable to brain injuries is often left out. Younger brains are more vulnerable to injury and children are more likely to experience concussions from falls or collisions, but they are often left out of research on sports-related concussions.
Now, a study investigating sports-related brain injuries in pre-adolescent children suggests the consequences for young children who experience brain injuries can be severe. A new study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology shows pre-adolescent children who have sustained sports-related concussions show impaired brain function up to two years after the injury.
“Our data indicate that children who sustain a concussion demonstrate deficits in brain function and cognitive performance approximately two years after injury, relative to others their age who do not have a history of mild traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Charles Hillman, a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For the study, the researchers evaluated 30 eight to 10-year old children who are active in athletics. Of those, fifteen of the children had experienced a sports-related two-years earlier, while the others had no history of brain injury.
The team assessed the children’s ability to update and maintain memory, as well as to pay attention and inhibit responses when instructed to do so. The children also underwent tests to evaluate their cognition while performing tasks.
According to the findings, the children with a history of concussion performed worse across all tests, with the largest deficits found in the children who had concussions earliest in life.
“These data are an important first step toward understanding sustained changes in brain function and cognition that occur following childhood concussion,” Hillman said. “Our study suggests the need to find ways to improve cognitive and brain health following a head injury, in an effort to improve lifelong brain health and effective functioning.”