Latest News » Even moderate concussions can pose threat to memory, brain health

Mild concussions can leave behind lasting brain damage even a year after the initial injury, according to a new study.

There has been no shortage of news in recent years about the dangers of concussions for brain health. While conventional wisdom dictated that the more serious a concussion, the greater the brain damage, new research is finding that even so-called mild concussions pose significant threats to thinking and memory support.

A new study, spearheaded by physics professor Andrew Blamire of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, used brain imaging and memory tests to evaluate cognitive skills in people who had experienced a minor or moderate concussion. This condition was defined by the research team as being "caused by events such as falling off a bike, being in a slow-speed car crash or being in a fist-fight." 

When participants in the study first incurred their concussion, they were tested on their thinking and memory skills at the time and scored 25 percent lower than healthy people. A year later, the patients were tested again. While their results had improved, there was still a gap between their scores and those of the healthier subjects, indicating that even minor concussions can and do result in lasting brain damage. Follow-up brain imaging confirmed this finding, which found that there was "continued disruption to key brain cells" among those that had had mild concussions a year before.

This research, which was published in the online edition of Neurology on July 16, is particularly disconcerting since most concussions — as many as 90 percent, according to Blamire — are considered to be mild or moderate.

"It's really good for people to know — those who are suffering with school performance, physical performance and even social issues — the fact that there is actual structural damage, even a year after the injury," added Dr. Michael O'Brien, director of the Boston Children's Hospital sports concussion clinic.

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