Cognitive effects of one season of head impacts in a cohort of collegiate contact sport athletes

Neurology. 2012 May;

78(22):1777-1784.

McAllister, T. W., L. A. Flashman, A. Maerlender, R. M. Greenwald, J. G. Beckwith, T. D. Tosteson, J. J. Crisco, P. G. Brolinson, S. M. Duma, A. C. Duhaime, M. R. Grove and J. H. Turco.

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Abstract:

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether exposure to repetitive head impacts over a single season negatively affects cognitive performance in collegiate contact sport athletes. METHODS: This is a prospective cohort study at 3 Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association athletic programs. Participants were 214 Division I college varsity football and ice hockey players who wore instrumented helmets that recorded the acceleration-time history of the head following impact, and 45 noncontact sport athletes. All athletes were assessed prior to and shortly after the season with a cognitive screening battery (ImPACT) and a subgroup of athletes also were assessed with 7 measures from a neuropsychological test battery. RESULTS: Few cognitive differences were found between the athlete groups at the preseason or postseason assessments. However, a higher percentage of the contact sport athletes performed more poorly than predicted postseason on a measure of new learning (California Verbal Learning Test) compared to the noncontact athletes (24% vs 3.6%; p < 0.006). On 2 postseason cognitive measures (ImPACT Reaction Time and Trails 4/B), poorer performance was significantly associated with higher scores on several head impact exposure metrics. CONCLUSION: Repetitive head impacts over the course of a single season may negatively impact learning in some collegiate athletes. Further work is needed to assess whether such effects are short term or persistent.

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