The plight of injured young footballers tends to dominate the discussion around concussion.
But a recent study has looked at the ongoing effects of mild traumatic brain injuries in a wider group of patients, with an average age of 40.
Having suffered a concussion, these patients were “more likely to have cognitive impairment, cognitive decline or both one year later, compared to people who were not injured”.
Along with these poor cognitive outcomes, patients “were also more likely to have other symptoms like anxiety and lower satisfaction with life”.
Fourteen per cent were found to have poor cognitive outcomes a year later.
“Our results suggest that clinically meaningful poor cognitive outcomes, which we defined as cognitive impairment, cognitive decline or both, one year after a concussion may be more common than previously thought,” said study author Dr Raquel Gardner, of the University of California, San Francisco.
“They also highlight the need to better understand the mechanisms underlying poor cognitive outcome, even after relatively mild brain injuries, to improve therapy for recovery.”
The study looked at 656 people who had been admitted to emergency rooms with concussions, and 156 healthy people without head injuries.
Participants were given up to three neurological evaluations after their injury, at two weeks, six months and one year.
These evaluations tested recall (memory), language skills and other cognitive domains.
Poor cognitive outcome was defined as “satisfying the criteria for cognitive impairment, cognitive decline or both”.
By the numbers
Out of the 656 people with mild brain injuries (14 per cent of participants):
86 had poor cognitive outcomes one year laterOf those, 10 per cent had cognitive impairment onlyTwo per cent had cognitive decline onlyAnd two per cent had both.
By comparison, from the 156 people without concussion (the control group):
Only eight had poor cognitive outcomes one year laterThree per cent had cognitive impairment onlyNone had cognitive decline onlyOne per cent had both.
Researchers found that people who had good cognitive outcomes “were more likely to have higher life satisfaction one year after their concussion”.
The study does not prove that people with concussions will have worse cognitive outcomes one year later, but it shows an association.
“More research is needed to find out the role of cognitive rehabilitation on people with more mild brain injuries who are also at risk for poor cognitive outcomes, and how to predict who falls into this risk category,” Dr Gardner said.