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Michael Phelan
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Concussions Linked to Suppressed Brain Functioning Years Later

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A study in the current edition of the Journal of Neurology supports the conclusion that concussions-medically classified as mild traumatic brain injuries-may cause weakened brain functioning later in life. The study was conducted by researchers in the department of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illionois. According to professor Steven Broglio of U of I, “[w]e were able to show that while our group of club and intercollegiate athletes, who were on average 3 ½ years post-injury, performed normally on standard tests a sports-medicine practitioner would use to diagnose and evaluate someone for concussion, they had suppressed brain functioning.” Professor Broglio added, "[a]nd that included a decrease in attention allocation to things going on in their environment." This means that the concussed subjects had deficits in their ability to update their working memory, which the researchers opined is a long-term deficit.

The University of Illinois concussion study considered performance results of 90 male and female college-aged student athletes who participate in sports, including soccer, ice hockey and rugby. Roughly half of the sample had sustained concussions within the past 3.4 years.

As part of the investigation, participants’ functional cognitive performance was evaluated using a battery of tests called the ImPACT inventory.

“No significant differences were found between groups on the ImPACT,” the researchers indicated in their report.

Subjects also were fitted with a 64-channel “Quik-cap”; electrodes in the cap measured event-related brain potentials (ERPs), or the brain’s electrical response to a stimulus during a “novelty oddball task.”

As this science continues to evolve, particularly with the help of the research being done on NFL players and Iraq war veterans, medico-legal experts in brain damage cases are going to have to consider whether people who’ve incurred concussions are likely to be at risk of later congnitive impairment.