Cognitive deficits and difficulties are hallmark symptoms of a concussion, but new research recently presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting shows traumatic brain injuries may have longer lasting effects on cognitive abilities than previously thought.
In one study, presented by researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, showed that a concussion can impact a person’s visual working memory for decades following the injury. Previously assumptions indicated brain injuries can affect a person’s ability to remember specific things they have seen for weeks, but the new findings say the effects could last as long as 55 years.
The team of researchers, led by graduate student Hector Arciniega, evaluated two groups. The first contained 43 people between the ages of 18 and 80 while the second group was composed of 20 college students with an average age of 21. Each group contained a number of people who had experienced a brain injury and some who had not.
Each participant underwent tests where they would be briefly shown an image. Then, when a second image was shown, they were asked whether it was the same image from earlier.
The results showed that people who had experienced a concussion in their lives performed worse on a test of visual working memory than those who had never experienced a brain injury, regardless of age or how long it had been since the injury.
Those who had not experienced a concussion were consistently more accurate than those with a history of brain injury, regardless of age group.
Another study presented at the meeting shows concussions also affect a person’s ability to pay attention while also highlighting an overall lack of awareness about brain injuries.
For this study, conducted by researchers at the City College of New York, 63 men between the ages of 18 and 29 set out to compare the men who had been diagnosed with a concussion to those who had not been diagnosed with a brain injury.
This plan changed, however, after the researchers say the answers given by the participants about their concussion history, blow to the head, and other symptoms. According to Jon Sigurjonsson, an adjunct assistant professor at CCNY and lead researcher on the study, the team realized many participants had likely experienced a concussion in the past and had not been diagnosed.
In all, 31 people were included in the concussion group: 10 who had a diagnosed brain injury, along with 21 more people who had never been diagnosed with a concussion but had experienced symptoms after a blow to the head.
Sigurjonsson says the results of the questionnaire indicate many people don’t know or understand the symptoms of a concussion.
After separating the participants into the two groups, the researchers used a test called to “MMN” test to evaluate a person’s brain activity while they are shown a flashing later M on a screen. Then, when the M changes to an N, it should produce a spike in brain activity to indicate the person is paying attention.
The researchers were able to observe this spike in people with no history of concussions but noted the peak did not appear in those who had experienced a brain injury. This suggests a concussion may affect a person’s ability to pay attention for years following a brain injury.
Neither study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, but the findings have motivated the teams to pursue further research into how concussions impact a person’s mental abilities for much longer than previously thought.