Researchers from the University of New Hampshire, USA, have recently found that young adults who experienced repetitive mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), or concussions, can experience persistent cognitive changes, as well as altered brain activity.
Experts define concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth, adding that concussion is a major public health concern and can be caused by sports injuries, motor-vehicle accidents, falls and other head trauma.
Professor Changiz Taghibiglou, who led the research, explained that concussion is a major health concern affecting all sections of society, from children whose brain is still developing, to older people suffering falls.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 10 million people per year are affected by a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“Multiple concussions, even after general symptoms have subsided, decrease an individual’s ability to flexibly shift their mode of thinking,” said Robert Ross, assistant professor of psychology and member of the research team. “We found that these decreases in performance are associated with changes in how the brain communicates information.”
According to the study recently published on Sciencedaily, researchers looked at young adults ranging in age from 18 to 24 who had sustained at least two concussions, with the most recent one being at least a month before the testing.
The participants were asked to switch between two tasks which included telling the difference between colours and shapes, like red and green and circle or square. Cognitive changes, like working memory and processing speed, were noted and oscillatory activity or brainwaves were monitored with an electroencephalogram (EEG), which tests for changes in the brainwaves.
In both the concussion group and the control group, researchers looked for differences in three different types of brainwaves and their effects on executive function, which is the ability to control cognitive functions like attention, inhibition, performance, flexibility, stability, working memory, and planning.
They found an overall lower performance rate from those in the concussion group during the task-switching exercise. They were less accurate and processing performance was low.
“This is important because in the United States more than one and a half million people suffer traumatic brain injuries each year,” said Daniel Seichepine, assistant professor of psychology and neuropsychology and a co-author on the study. “Most concussion-related studies focus on older adults or professional athletes, but these findings offer insight into the cognitive changes many young adults may suffer even years after their injury.”
The researchers hope these findings may help develop better targeted treatment strategies for young adults as they age.