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Friday, December 13, 2013

Head injuries in one football season cause measurable brain damage

Brain injuries Dartmouth-Princeton

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For college athletes who get through their sport's season concussion-free, new research suggests it may be too early to breathe a sigh of relief.

Following a season of grueling practices and hard-fought games, football and ice hockey players who had no outward sign of head trauma showed worrisome changes in brain structure and cognitive performance that weren’t shared by athletes who competed in varsity sports such as track, crew and cross-country skiing, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that a season-long succession of small hits — none hard enough to cause evident disorientation or draw medical attention — may prompt changes in the brain that cause problems with memory, mood or mental performance years down the road.

Or, they may heal during the off-season. Scientists are still trying to figure out how readily the brain recovers from injury, or whether there are thresholds beyond which damage can be cumulative or irreversible.

The new results don’t resolve the matter, but they do suggest that repetitive blows to the head are not without consequence, even when an athlete is able to get up and keep playing, said study leader Thomas McAllister, a psychiatrist at Indiana University.

“The management and detection of concussion is obviously important,” McAllister said. “But may not be sufficient.”

The study centered on 159 students at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. — where...

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