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Multiple concussions can lead to loss of brain function later in life

Doctors say it can affect memory and the ability to focus.

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(Photo by MART PRODUCTION via Pexels)

By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Suffering three or more concussions can lead to a deterioration in brain function later in life, warns a new study.

It can affect memory and the ability to focus, process information and complete complex tasks.

Even suffering from just one moderate or severe concussion or traumatic brain injury could have a long-term impact on the brain.

What is more, with each new concussion the impact gets worse.

These findings shed light on the dangers of high-risk sports such as rugby and come just weeks after the death of Scots rugby international Doddie Weir, who developed motor neurone disease.

According to the Drake Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that works to improve the health and welfare of people impacted by head injuries: “The 2016–17 Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project reported concussion to be the most commonly reported rugby match injury in English Premiership Clubs and the England Senior team, contributing to 22 percent of all match injuries.

“During the 2016–17 season, a total of 169 match concussions were reported.”

Lead investigator, Dr. Vanessa Raymont, from the University of Oxford, said: “We know that head injuries are a major risk factor for dementia, and this large-scale study gives the greatest detail to date on a stark finding - the more times you injure your brain in life, the worse your brain function could be as you age.

“Our research indicates that people who have experienced three or more even mild episodes of concussion should be counseled on whether to continue high-risk activities.

“We should also encourage organizations operating in areas where head impact is more likely to consider how they can protect their athletes or employees.”

The team took data from over 15,000 participants based in the UK. They were between the age of 50 and 90.

Each person reported the severity and frequency of concussions they had experienced throughout their lives and took part in annual, computerised brain function tests.

The participants who reported three episodes of even mild concussion in their lives had significantly worse attention and ability to complete complex tasks.

Those who had four or more mild concussion episodes also showed a drop in their processing speed and working memory.

The team also found that reporting even one moderate-to-severe concussion was linked with a worsened attention span and a drop in their ability to complete complex tasks and process information.

Each additionally reported concussion was linked to progressively worse cognitive function.

The study offers a mine of data to help understand how the brain ages and the factors involved in maintaining a healthier brain in later life.

Co-author, Dr. Helen Brooker, from the University of Exeter, said: “As our population ages, we urgently need new ways to empower people to live healthier lives in later life.

“This paper highlights the importance of detailed long-term studies like PROTECT in better understating head injuries and the impact on long-term cognitive function, particularly as concussion has also been linked to dementia.

“We’re learning that life events that might seem insignificant, life experiencing a mild concussion, can have an impact on the brain.

“Our findings indicate that cognitive rehabilitation should focus on key functions such as attention and completion of complex tasks, which we found to be susceptible to long-term damage.”

Dr. Susan Kohlhaas, the director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Studies like this are so important in unraveling the long-term risks of traumatic brain injury, including their effect on dementia risk.

“These findings should send a clear message to policy makers and sporting bodies, who need to put robust guidelines in place that reduce risk of head injury as much as possible.”

The study was published in the journal of Neurotrauma.

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