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Rugby study suggests link between concussion and brain function

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New research funded by World Rugby suggests that there may be a link between frequent concussion and brain function.

The long-term study in New Zealand examined the health of 485 men: 131 retired professional rugby players, 281 former amateur rugby players and 73 who had played non-contact sports such as cricket and hockey.

Professor Patria Hume, the project´s lead researcher, said that the study showed a statistically significant link between repeated concussion and brain damage.

As many as 94% of elite level rugby players experienced one or more concussions and players need to be aware of the risk, she added.

“If you have a concussion you need to report it and get it medically assessed,” Professor Hume told news agency AFP.

World Rugby, the international governing body of rugby union, commissioned the research in 2012 amid growing concerns about the potential for long-term brain injuries in high-impact sports.

Commenting on the findings, the organisation said that rugby players performed above average in some tests compared to non-contact sports players and less well in others. It claimed that it was “difficult to draw robust conclusions about the links between rugby and long-term cognitive health issues” and said the study highlights the need for further in-depth research.

But Professor Hume told AFP that it was “irresponsible” to ignore the link with long-term brain health issues.

She said that rugby players who had suffered four or more concussions performed worse in tests measuring mental and physical coordination, motor speed and multi-tasking.

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper described player welfare as his number one priority, adding that strategies regarding concussion education, management, prevention and research are “at the very top of our agenda”.

The Auckland University of Technology study is in the process of being peer reviewed for publication.