Head injuries are commonly associated with full contact sports, like football. While they can range in severity from a bump on the head to a full-blown traumatic brain injury (TBI), cognitive issues almost always develop after a head injury occurs. A recent study found cognition problems that persist after a mild head injury can potentially be treated with medication.
Treating Mild Head Injuries
A recent study conducted by neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center found tailored drug therapy could help treat brain cognition issues after a mild head injury. The goal of the study was to understand changes in the brain that occur in response to low-level head impacts, which are similar to injuries regularly suffered by many younger football players.
On average, high school and college football players can receive up to 21 impacts to the head per week; however, more specialized players – like defensive ends – can experience twice as many weekly impacts. These repeated head injuries can result in cognitive issues, ranging from mild learning and memory deficits to more significant behavioral changes.
Throughout the study, researchers monitored participants who experienced mild, repeated hits to the head for changes in brain function. After analyzing their brains, researchers found neither inflammation nor tau pathology, which are often seen in those who suffer from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In addition, researchers discovered the synaptic or messaging functions of the brain remained intact; however, the way they communicate through the brain’s production of glutamate was repressed.
Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain and is present in over 60% of brain synapses. Glutamate assists in the way the brain strengthens or weakens signals between neurons over time to help with learning and memory.
Following a week of frequent, mild hits to the head, glutamate detection in the participants remained stunted for a month after the impacts ceased. This led researchers to confirm that the changes in cognition experienced by the participants was due to glutamate production. The researchers gave one study group a drug, which is commonly used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,to block transmission of glutamate before they experienced the head trauma. The results were that the drug prevented participants from experiencing changes to their synapses and participants did not present with issues relating to cognitive functioning.
While the study’s findings are promising for those who experience mild head trauma, it is unlikely to help those already suffering from the effects of CTE. However, the findings represent the potential of early treatment in mild head injuries, which could assist in preventing the development of CTE over time.
Common Cognition Problems After a Head Injury
Even the most mild TBI could cause cognition issues. Brain cognition refers to the act of knowing or thinking and includes the ability to choose, understand, remember, and use information. Some of the most common brain cognition issues experienced after a head injury include:
Attention and Concentration Issues
After suffering a brain injury, a person may have difficulty focusing, paying attention, or doing more than one task at a time. This can result in issues with restlessness, being easily distracted, and carrying on conversations with others. Because attention-related skills can help with memory and reasoning, people with problems in this area often show signs of future cognitive issues.
Problems Processing and Understanding Information
Following a brain injury, a person’s ability to process and understand information can slow down. This can cause multiple problems, such as an increase in the time it takes for a person to understand what others are saying. Furthermore, they can have difficulty following directions, trouble following along with storylines, and slower reaction times.
Problems With Self-Control and Awareness
Those with brain injuries may lack self-control and even self-awareness, which may cause individuals to behave inappropriately or impulsively in social environments. Many may deny or be unaware that they have cognitive issues, despite the issues being obvious to others. They may say hurtful or insensitive things, behave in inconsiderate ways, or lack awareness of social boundaries.
NCAA Head Injury Attorneys
While research into how to treat severe head injuries is ongoing, having a potential means to treat milder injuries is promising. Unfortunately, however, the many risks associated with repeated head injuries for collegiate football players remain severe. At Raizner Law, we’ve worked with hundreds of athletes who suffered severe head injuries due to the negligence of their coaches, the NCAA, universities, and athletic conferences. If you or someone you know suffered a head injury caused by repeated sports-related concussions, we can help. Contact us today to learn more.