Past research has made it clear that younger athletes take significantly longer to recover than their older counterparts, but a new study suggests it may take much more time than previously thought before they recover entirely.
According to findings from York University, it can take up to two years before athletes between the ages of eight and 16 can fully recover from their injury and play as skillfully as their teammates with no concussion history.
“Performing motor tasks, guided by what we see, is crucial in skill-based activities such as sports,” says Professor Lauren Sergio in the Faculty of Health. “But the current return to sport assessment doesn’t test to see if the injured person has regained this ability. Because of this often children and youth who have had a concussion end up returning to normal activities before they are fully recovered. We believe this makes them more vulnerable to another concussion.”
For the study, Sergio’s team examined the long-term difficulty in cognitive-motor functioning integration of 50 children and adolescents who had a documented history of concussion. The results were then compared to 49 children and adolescents who have never experienced a concussion.
The participants were all asked to perform two separate tasks on a dual-touchscreen laptop. In the first task, target location and motor action were aligned. However, in the second test the required movement was not aligned with the guiding visual target, meaning simultaneous thinking was required for success.
“We noticed significant difficulty in completing the tasks among those with concussion history,” says Marc Dalecki, postdoctoral candidate and lead author. “In fact, it took many of the children two years after the concussion to have a similar performance on the task as children who did not have a history of concussion.”
The researchers believe the findings, published in the journal Concussion, indicate that those between the age of eight and 16 were particularly vulnerable because they are neurologically more fragile than adults.
The results also highlight the need for long-term rehabilitation following brain injuries, especially for younger patients.