Concussions sustained in childhood may increase the brain’s aging process, according to researchers from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and U-M Health System.
“Just because you have had a concussion does not mean your brain will age more quickly or you will get Alzheimer’s. We are only proposing how being hit in the head may lead to these other conditions, but we do not know how it all goes together just yet,” Steven Broglio, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory, stated in a press release.
According to the study abstract, the researchers hypothesized “that concussive and subconcussive head impacts set about a cascade of pathological events that accelerates declines in cognitive function typically associated with the aging process.”
Broglio measured electrical activation in different areas of the brain as study participants performed various tasks in front of computers. Participants with histories of concussions showed less electrical activation in their brains than nonconcussed participants.
“What we do not know is if you had a single concussion in high school, does that mean you will get dementia at age 50?” Broglio stated. “Clinically, we do not see that. What we think is it will be a dose response. So, if you played a little soccer and sustained some head impacts and maybe one concussion, then you may have a little risk. If you went on and took more head balls and sustained two more concussions, you are probably at a little bigger risk. Then if you play professionally for a few years, and take more hits to the head, you increase the risk even more. We believe it is a cumulative effect.”
Broglio SP, Eckner JT, Paulson HL, Kutcher JS. Cognitive decline and aging: the role of concussive and subconcussive impacts. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2012; 40(3):138-144.