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Concussion in youth sport is a serious issue, with potential long-term consequences. A study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology has revealed that pre-adolescent children who sustained sports-related concussions had impaired brain function two years after suffering the injury.

According to the University of Illinois, what we know about long-term effects of childhood concussions is limited. Some researchers claim that only a small proportion of children have developmental deficits following a concussion, while other reports indicate much more serious consequences, including long-term cognitive deficits.

The new study included 30 children aged eight to ten who take part in athletic activities. Half of the children were recruited two years after suffering a sports-related concussion and the remaining children had no history of concussion.

The researchers assessed the children´s ability to update and maintain memory, as well as pay attention and inhibit responses when instructed to do so. The team also analysed electrical signals in the brain while the children performed some of these cognitive tests. This meant that they were able to measure how each child´s brain performed the tests, the university reported.

“Our data indicate that children who sustain a concussion demonstrate deficits in brain function and cognitive performance approximately two years after injury, relative to others their age who do not have a history of mild traumatic brain injury,” said Charles Hillman, University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor who led the research with R. Davis Moore, a recent Illinois graduate and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montreal.

Compared with children in the control group, those with a history of concussion performed worse on tests of working memory, attention and impulse control. This impaired performance was also reflected in differences in the electric signals in the injured children´s brains. The researchers also found that, among the children with a history of concussion, those who were injured earlier in life had the largest deficits.

The research highlights the potential for lifelong academic and vocational consequences for children who sustain concussions early in life, Moore said.

“These data are an important first step toward understanding sustained changes in brain function and cognition that occur following childhood concussion,” Hillman concluded. “Our study suggests the need to find ways to improve cognitive and brain health following a head injury, in an effort to improve lifelong brain health and effective functioning.”