Study Reveals Link Between Multiple Concussions and Long-Term Brain Function Impairment


A recent study, recognized as the largest of its kind, has revealed a significant association between multiple concussions and cognitive impairment later in life. Led by teams from the University of Oxford and the University of Exeter, the research utilized data from over 15,000 participants enrolled in the online PROTECT study, aged between 50 and 90 and based in the UK. Participants reported the severity and frequency of concussions they had experienced over their lifetimes and underwent annual computerized tests to assess brain function.

Published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, the study demonstrated that individuals who reported three or more concussions exhibited notably worse cognitive function, with subsequent concussions exacerbating the decline. Attention span and the ability to complete complex tasks were particularly affected.

Lead investigator Dr Vanessa Raymont from the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry explained the significance of the findings: “We know that head injuries are a major risk factor for dementia, and this large-scale study provides 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.”

Based on their findings, the researchers emphasize the importance of caution for individuals who have experienced three or more even mild concussions and urge them to consider whether continuing high-risk activities is advisable. The study also underscores the need for organizations involved in sports and other high-impact fields to prioritize the protection of their athletes and employees.

The study also highlighted the impact of a single moderate-to-severe concussion, which was found to be associated with worsened attention, completion of complex tasks, and processing speed capacity. Even one such concussion can have a lasting effect on brain function.

The PROTECT study, conducted online, provides valuable insights into how the brain ages and factors that contribute to maintaining cognitive health in later life. Participants share detailed lifestyle information and undergo cognitive tests annually for up to 25 years, allowing researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the aging brain.

Dr Helen Brooker, a study co-author from the University of Exeter, emphasized the need for long-term studies like PROTECT: “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.”

The study’s implications extend beyond cognitive impairment, as concussions have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, called for robust guidelines to minimize the risk of head injuries in various settings.

With its global collaboration and extensive data collection, the PROTECT study provides critical insights into traumatic brain injuries. As the population ages, understanding the long-term risks associated with concussions becomes increasingly important for promoting healthier lives in later years.

The PROTECT study is ongoing and invites individuals aged 40 and over to participate. Collaborating institutions include the University of New South Wales in Australia, Kings College London, University College London, Stavanger University Hospital in Norway, and Harvard Medical School in the US.

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