Brainpower May Take A Beating Following Concussion

While mounting evidence indicates that the long-term effects of concussion include sleep disturbances, mood disorders and headache, a new study headed by UC San Francisco finds that it may also take a long-term toll on cognition.

In the study, researchers found that a total of 13.5 percent of patients, who had been diagnosed a year ago with concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury, were found to have “poor cognitive outcome.” This included cognitive impairment, defined as performing at less than the ninth percentile in testing of areas like memory and processing speed (10.1 percent of patients); and/or cognitive decline, demonstrated by a meaningful drop in test scores from two weeks after the injury to months later (3.4 percent of patients).

By contrast, just 4.5 percent of study participants without concussions subsequently had poor cognitive outcomes. Of this percentage, 3.3 percent had cognitive impairment and 1.2 percent had both cognitive impairment and cognitive decline, the authors stated in their study publishing on Feb. 16, 2022, on the online issue of Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers tracked the outcomes of 656 patients who met the criteria for concussion after presenting at level 1 trauma centers. The patients, whose average age was 40, were compared with 156 demographically matched participants who had not had concussions. Both groups had been enrolled in the TRACK-TBI study, a brain injury research initiative headed by principal investigator Geoffrey Manley, MD, PhD, of UCSF and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

“We found that patients who experienced good cognitive outcomes following concussion sustained less severe injury, based on the scoring system of the head CT,” said senior author Raquel Gardner, MD, of the UCSF Department of Neurology and the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “They were also more likely to have medical insurance and post-high school education.”

Factors in Cognitive Outcome

Approximately one in three concussions was caused by being in a car during a collision. These patients were more likely to have a poor one-year cognitive outcome (43 percent) than a good one (34 percent). Underlying conditions like