A Canadian researcher has found that damage to the brain can persist for decades after the original head trauma, according to a report delivered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston Sunday.
“Even when you are symptom-free, your brain may still not be back to normal,” Dr. Maryse Lassonde, a neuropsychologist and the scientific director of the Quebec Nature and Technologies Granting Agency, said in a statement.
Lassonde, whose work is supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, was a consultant with the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, treating players with concussions for 15 years. The foundation issued a press release on the Lassonde’s recent research, where she simultaneously undertook study of the impact of concussions on children and young athletes as well as older athletes.
Lassonde had athletes perform visual and auditory tasks and also mapped their brains with the help of EEG and MRI equipment, in addition to testing brain chemistry.
“Her research demonstrates that brain waves remain abnormal in young athletes for two years following a concussion, and atrophy occurs in the motor pathways of the brain following a hit,” the press release said.
Her work, which has been published in the journals Brain and Cerebral Cortex, offers several lessons.
“That tells you that first of all, concussions lead to attention problems, which we can see using sophisticated techniques such as the EEG,” Lassonde said. “This may also lead to motor problems in young athletes.”
The long-term effects in older former athletes were even worse.
By looking at older athletes who suffered their last concussion 30 years ago, and comparing them to healthy peers who had not experienced concussions, Lassonde found that those who had suffered a head trauma had memory and attention deficits and motor problems similar to the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In addition, additional testing of the older athletes discovering a “thinning” of the cortex in the same regions of the brain that Alzheimer’s disease usually affects.
“This thinning correlated with memory decline and attention decline,” Lassonde said.
She also warned that young players who return to their sport too soon and suffer a second concussion risk serious brain damage or death.
“If a child or any player has a concussion, they should be kept away from playing or doing any mental exercise until their symptoms abate,” Lassonde said. “Concussions should not be taken lightly. We should really also follow former players in clinical settings to make sure they are not aging prematurely in terms of cognition.”
Lassonde presented as part of a Sunday breakfast at the AAAS.