HEALTHY LIVING
08/01/2012 05:11 pm ET

Concussions May Age Brain, Study Suggests

Adding to the growing research surrounding the dangers of head injuries, a new study suggests concussions could make the brain age faster.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that there were differences with electrical activity in the brain, as well as general gait and balance, between college students who have had a concussion before and those who hadn't.

The researchers were able to tell these differences up to six years after the head injury occurred, according to the study in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.

However, the researchers were quick to note that these changes were subtle, and none of the study participants exhibited any differences in how they looked or conducted themselves.

"The last thing we want is for people to panic. Just because you've had a concussion does not mean your brain will age more quickly or you'll get Alzheimer's," study researcher Steven Broglio, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory, said in a statement. "We are only proposing how being hit in the head may lead to these other conditions, but we don't know how it all goes together just yet," as other factors like exercise, alcohol or genetics could play a part.

The study included 224 college athletes who participated in a number of computer tasks while brain images were taken. Of those participants, 162 had never had a previous head injury, while 62 said that they'd had anywhere from one to four concussions.

The researchers said that their findings suggest a dose-dependent response, meaning the more head trauma you sustain throughout your life, the higher your risk will be for aging of the brain and the breakdown of its signaling pathways.

"So, if you played soccer and sustained some head impacts and maybe one concussion, then you may have a little risk. If you went on and played in college and took more head balls and sustained two more concussions, you're probably at a little bigger risk. Then if you play professionally for a few years, and take more hits to the head, you increase the risk even more," Broglio explained in the statement. "We believe it's a cumulative effect."

Previously, a small study in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showed that it's possible for kids who have mild concussions to experience effects of the injury -- like problems with attention, dizziness and fatigue -- even a year later, the Associated Press reported.

These prolonged symptoms weren't experienced by all the children in the study, researchers noted, and the study only examined these symptoms a year post-head injury, so researchers were not able to see if the symptoms were long-lasting, the Associated Press reported.

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