Objective: To evaluate the influences of sociodemographic factors, estimated head impact exposure, and academic aptitude on ImPACT scores in college athletes.
Methods: Data were reported on 18,886 participants (58% male) from the NCAA/DoD CARE Consortium. Race, SES, concussion history, estimated repetitive head impact exposure (eRHIE), and academic aptitude (SAT or ACT score) were our predictors of interest. Cognition was measured using ImPACT composite scores. We evaluated the mediating effects of academic aptitude on sociodemographic predictors and eRHIE on ImPACT scores. We then evaluated a football-only subsample and added age of first exposure to football (AFE) to the model. Males, females, and football players were analyzed separately using structural equation modeling.
Results: Academic aptitude was associated with Black/African American race, SES, and each of the ImPACT composite scores. There were significant indirect effects of Black/African American race and SES on all ImPACT composite scores. Academic aptitude fully mediated SES effects and either fully or partially mediated race effects. Contrary to expectation, greater concussion history and eRHIE predicted better ImPACT scores.
Conclusions: Academic aptitude, a stable indicator of premorbid cognitive function, consistently and most strongly predicted baseline ImPACT scores in collegiate student-athletes. Concussion and eRHIE history demonstrated a small positive, but non-significant, relationship with cognitive scores at the time of college athletic participation. This study suggests that attempts to characterize cognitive ability across the lifespan must consider premorbid functioning and sociodemographic variables.