WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Athletes who suffer a concussion can experience a decline in their mental and physical processes more than 30 years later, according to a Canadian study that's the first to identify these kinds of long-term effects.
The researchers examined 40 healthy, former university-level athletes between the ages of 50 and 60. Of those, 19 had suffered a concussion more than 30 years ago, and 21 had no history of concussion.
Compared to those who were concussion-free, the participants who'd been concussed only once or twice in their early adulthood showed declines in attention and memory, as well as a slowing of some types of movement.
The study was published online Jan. 28 in the journal Brain.
Most research focuses on the immediate, post-concussion period and on deciding when it's safe for a concussed athlete to return to play. The long-term effects of concussion tend to be overlooked.
"This study shows that the effects of sports concussions in early adulthood persist beyond 30 years post-concussion and that it can cause cognitive and motor function alterations as the athletes age," study first author Louis De Beaumont, of the University of Montreal, said in a news release from the journal.
"In light of these findings, athletes should be better informed about the cumulative and persistent effects of sports concussion on mental and physical processes, so that they know about the risks associated with returning to their sport," he said.
Follow-up studies are needed to determine if concussion may increase the risk of serious mental and physical decline in old age, De Beaumont added.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has more about concussion.