Concussions and even head impacts may speed up the brain’s natural aging process, new research has found.
Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and the U-M Health System have found that concussions and even lesser head impacts can speed up the brain’s natural aging process by causing signalling pathways in the brain to break down more quickly.
By researching college students who had, and had not, suffered concussions, they were able to uncover changes in gait, balance and in the brain’s electrical activity. Steven Broglio, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory, said these changes were particularly evident with attention and impulse control.
Signs of decline in the brain injury group were present up to six years after injury, although the results were not significantly different, and outwardly all of the participants looked and acted the same. Mr Brogolio emphasised that the study simply lays out a hypothesis, and further research would be needed to establish whether there was indeed a connection between concussions and head impacts and an acceleration of brain aging.
Mr Brogolio said: “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.
“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.”
Lifestyle choices, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical exercise and family history are also known to have a significant impact on how the brain ages. Concussion and head impact, therefore, are likely to be just a small factor that implicates brain aging.
“What we don’t know is if you had a single concussion in high school, does that mean you will get dementia at age 50?” Broglio added.
“Clinically, we don’t see that. What we think is it will be a dose response.”
The study appears in the July issue of journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.