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Football Linked To Hidden Cognitive Damage

October 8, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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It might be a good idea to make MRI machines standard equipment at football games, all the way down to the high-school level (at least). Purdue University researchers found undiagnosed brain-function impairment in some high-school players—even in the absence of concussion symptoms.

Pretty scary. Said Larry Leverenz, PhD, one of the authors of the Purdue research paper:

The problem is that the usual clinical signs of a head injury are not present. There is no sign or symptom that would indicate a need to put these players out of a practice or game, so they just keep on getting hit.

Dr. Leverenz is a clinical professor of health and kinesiology and a specialist in athletic training. He was quoted in a Purdue news release.

The researchers monitored 21 football players at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana. They wore helmets each equipped with six accelerometers that measured impact data. That data and videos of each play were correlated with functional MRI brain-imaging scans and cognitive tests before, during, and after the season.

Eleven of the players were diagnosed with a concussion, received an unusually high number of impacts to the head, or received an unusually hard impact. Of those, three were diagnosed with concussions. Four showed changes in brain function during the season. The other four showed no changes.

“So half of the players who appeared to be uninjured still showed changes in brain function,” Dr. Leverenz said. “These four players showed significant brain deficits. Technically, we aren’t calling the impairment ‘concussions’ because that term implies very specific clinical symptoms, such as losing consciousness or having trouble walking and speaking. At the same time, our data clearly indicate significant impairment.”

The researchers suggest that it’s a different kind of impairment from concussion because it doesn’t cause such concussion symptoms as unsteady balance, blurred vision, headaches, ringing in the ears, or slurred speech. And it’s very difficult to diagnose without running the players through an MRI machine.

The study was published online last week in the Journal of Neurotrauma. Other Purdue researchers are trying to create a helmet that reduces the cumulative effect of impacts.

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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