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Concussion can affect young athletes´ learning ability

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Young athletes can face problems in the classroom after suffering a concussion, according to new research which suggests the need for accommodations and “return-to-learn” guidelines.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) compared academic problems among 70 students following a diagnosed concussion versus academic problems among 108 students who suffered other sports-related injuries to arms or legs, such as an ankle sprain.

On a 174-point scale, academic problems among the concussed students were nearly 16 points higher at one week than the students who suffered other types of sports injuries, the researchers said.

One month after injury, there were no differences except among athletes with a history of two or more prior concussions and females. (Previous research by the University of Rochester showed that a woman´s menstrual cycle plays an important role in brain recovery and that females generally recover more slowly from brain injuries.)

Erin Wasserman, Ph.D., conducted the research as a doctoral candidate in epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester.

“Most students who play sports are not going to become professional athletes but they will need to continue with school and prepare for a career,” Wasserman said. “So, just as they need guidance for when they can play again, they need guidance and protection for when it´s appropriate to return to class and what to expect.”

According to URMC concussion expert Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, a co-author of the study, accommodating students with a brain injury is no different from accommodating students with a broken leg.

“You wouldn´t ask students to run a mile or do the 100-yard dash the day they get their cast off,” he said. “Going to school is taxing on the brain and we have to show flexibility when it comes to our students.”

Bazarian suggested that as symptoms such as headache, dizziness, blurry vision, and difficulties with concentration and memory disappear, students should gradually increase their school time.

The findings echo those of a study we reported on last week from Canada´s York University, which found that children and young people take longer to fully recover from concussion than previously thought, and can end up returning to sport before they are fully recovered.