A few recently published clinical reports about the long-term impact of concussions in youth probably have parents who allow their sons to play football feeling a bit queasy with second thoughts. For example, one small and limited study from researchers at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center found that men who started playing football at a young age — before 12 years old — were twice as likely to develop apathy and issues with behavioral regulation, and three times more likely to develop depression, compared to those men who started playing when they were older. Bob Tedeschi discovered another concerning finding from the study:
Significantly, men who went on to play in college or the pros were no more likely to have these problems than those who stopped playing after youth football.
Sean Gregory explains why young brains are so vulnerable:
Between the ages of 10-12, says Dr. Robert Cantu, a professor of neurology at BU and a leading expert on head trauma, the brain is maximizing its connectivity and fine-tuning its structural development. Intelligence, mood tendencies, and impulse control are starting to take shape. Repeated hits to the head can only disrupt the cognitive growth process. “They can keep your brain from reaching its genetically-endowed potential,” says Cantu.
“This is just more evidence suggesting that your later-life behavior, particularly when it comes to cognitive and mood issues, could be adversely effected by brain trauma early in life,” says Cantu, who has long recommended that kids hold off playing tackle football until they’re 14. “If you have to take hits to the head at all, you’re better off taking them at later ages.”
We should stop here and point out that it is not just football players who suffer concussions. Practically every sport and activity that young people partake in can lead to a concussion. Over the years, I have seen my share of bad concussions in young football players. I have also seen horrendous concussions from falls off bicycles, motorbikes, and ATVs, head bangs sustained during car collisions, trips onto concrete paths while running cross-country races, and slips on ice while shoveling a driveway. Results from a study published last week in JAMA reveal that 20% of American adolescents have suffered at least one diagnosed concussion in their lifetimes. 5.5% of them have had two or more, says Aimee Cunningham:
About 13,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders took part in the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, an annual national survey of adolescent behavior and health given in schools. Among other questions, teens were asked whether they had ever had a head injury that was diagnosed as a concussion — 19.5 percent had. Those teens were more likely to participate in competitive sports and be male, white and in a higher grade.
Because of its immense popularity in this country, football gets the most attention. It’s the only sport where multiple players’ brains experience acceleration-deceleration events on every single play, on purpose, even without helmet-to-helmet or helmet-to-ground impacts. (And for the players who partake in a celebratory head-butt now and then, please stop!) But the two studies we examined today don’t come close in shock value to the results of another study from Boston University’s CTE Center. We’ll have a look at those devastating findings tomorrow on The PediaBlog.
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