Abnormal brain activity tied to concussions in pro football

October 25, 2013


New study shows the long-term trauma of concussions

In recent weeks, there has been a great deal of controversy regarding the phenomenon of concussions in professional football - largely centered around the occurrence of serious brain damage in these athletes. The book and tied-in PBS documentary film "League of Denial" are perhaps the two most notable examinations of the topic, revealing stories of star National Football League players who, well after their careers had ended, experienced several mental illness and, in several tragic instances, committed suicide in violent ways.

Many of these athletes were revealed to have a brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy upon autopsy. This has led to a great deal of outcry about the safety of the game and the need for more thorough football injury prevention measures, as well as a continued lack of official comment on the matter from NFL officials. Now, a new study, conducted by expert researchers at the Imperial College in London, has turned up additional connections between abnormal brain activity and football, tied to the occurrence of concussions during play. 

Imperial College research results
Study authors, led by Adam Hampshire, M.D., of the Imperial College's Department of Medicine, recruited 13 former NFL players and conducted neurological tests on them to gauge their understanding of spatial relations and other cognitive functions. Researchers also used 60 volunteers, none of whom had any professional football experience, as a control group. 

For the primary test, participants had to rearrange a number of toy colored balls in various tubes, as quickly and simply as possible. Afterward, Hampshire and his colleagues examined logs of the brain activity that took place as the test was happening. While the former football players did not perform that much worse than those in the control group, they did exhibit signs of abnormal activity in the frontal lobes of the brain. 

Hampshire made it clear that additional research was necessary before any real action regarding the findings could be taken, but stated that there was a concrete link between football-related injuries and these issues with the brain.

"The NFL alumni showed some of the most pronounced abnormalities in brain activity I have ever seen, and I have processed a lot of patient data sets in the past ... The critical fact is that the level of brain abnormality correlates strongly with the measure of head impacts of great enough severity to warrant being taken out of play. This means that it is highly likely that damage caused by blows to the head accumulate toward an executive impairment later in life," Hampshire said in a statement regarding the study.

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