A new study finds that young adults with a history of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), or concussions, can experience persistent cognitive changes as well as altered brain activity.

“Multiple concussions, even after general symptoms have subsided, decrease an individual’s ability to flexibly shift their mode of thinking,” said Dr. Robert Ross, assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

“We found that these decreases in performance are associated with changes in how the brain communicates information.”

For the study, researchers evaluated a group of young adults ranging in age from 18 to 24 who had experienced at least two concussions with the most recent one being at least a month before the testing.

The participants had to switch between two different tasks which involved telling the difference between colors and shapes, like red and green and circle or square. Cognitive changes, like working memory and processing speed, were noted; oscillatory activity, or brain waves, were monitored with an electroencephalogram (EEG), which tests for changes in the brainwaves.

In both the concussion patients and the control group, the research team looked for differences in three different types of brain waves and their effects on executive function, which involves the ability to control attention, inhibition, performance, flexibility, stability, working memory and planning.

The findings reveal an overall lower performance rate among participants in the concussion group during the task-switching exercise. They were less accurate and processing performance was low.

“This is important because in the United States more than one and a half million people suffer traumatic brain injuries each year,” said Dr. Daniel Seichepine, assistant professor of psychology and neuropsychology and a co-author on the study.

“Most concussion-related studies focus on older adults or professional athletes, but these findings offer insight into the cognitive changes many young adults may suffer even years after their injury.”

The researchers hope the new findings will help develop better targeted treatment strategies for young concussion patients as they age.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury hospitalizations for adolescents and persons 15-44 years of age. Motor vehicle traffic injury is the leading cause of TBI-related death; rates are highest for adults aged 20 to 24 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

The findings are published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: University of New Hampshire