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For Contact Sport Athletes, Head Impact Impairs Learning

Poor performance on postseason cognitive measures linked to head impact exposure metrics

WEDNESDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- For contact sport athletes, repetitive head impact during a single season is associated with poorer measures of new learning and poorer performance on cognitive measures, according to a study published online May 16 in Neurology.

Thomas W. McAllister, M.D., from Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H., and colleagues conducted a prospective study involving 214 Division I college varsity football and ice hockey players and 45 noncontact sports athletes. The athletes in contact sports wore instrumented helmets that recorded the acceleration-time history of the head following impact. All athletes were assessed with a cognitive screening battery before and shortly after the season, and a subgroup also underwent seven measures from a neuropsychiatric test battery.

The researchers found few differences in the preseason and postseason assessments between the athlete groups. On a measure of new learning, a significantly higher percentage of contact sport athletes performed more poorly than predicted postseason, compared with noncontact athletes (24 versus 3.6 percent). Poorer performance on two postseason cognitive measures was significantly associated with higher scores on various head impact exposure metrics.

"Repetitive head impacts over the course of a single season may negatively impact learning in some collegiate athletes," the authors write. "Further work is needed to assess whether such effects are short term or persistent."

Two of the authors are employed by Simbex. Two of the authors and Simbex have a financial interest in the instruments used to collect the biomechanical data in this study.

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