The common concussion is typically thought to be of little risk, but a new study published in Neurology shows that even mild traumatic brain injury can cause brain damage, including thinking and memory problems.
All participants underwent thinking and memory tests, while having diffusion tensor imaging scans – a type of highly sensitive MRI scan which can detect damage to brain cells.
The people with brain injuries were scanned an average of six days after their injury. A year later, 23 of those individuals then underwent a second set of cognitive tests and scans.
The researchers found that compared to the people with no brain injury, those with injuries had damage in brain white matter consisting of disruption to nerve axons, which allow brain cells to transmit messages to each other. The results also show that scores on a verbal letter fluency task, a test of thinking, and memory skills, were 25 percent lower in people with a brain injury compared to healthy individuals.
“Most of the studies thus far have focused on people with severe and chronic traumatic brain injury,” said study author Andrew Blamire, Ph.D., of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “We studied patients who had suffered clinically mild injuries, often from common accidents, such as falling from a bicycle, or slow speed car accidents.
“This finding is especially important, as 90 percent of all traumatic brain injuries are mild to moderate.”
A year later, the scores were notably more even between those with and without brain injuries, however the researchers were still able to observe areas of brain damage in people with injuries.
“These results show that thinking skills were recovering over time,” Blamire said. “The areas of brain damage were not as widespread across the brain as previously, but focused in certain areas of the brain, which could indicate that the brain was compensating for the injuries.”