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Long-Term Risks of Repeated Head Impacts Among Athletes

Athletes at risk for neuro traumaIf you’ve ever had a concussion or any other type of brain injury, you likely experienced at least some of the symptoms caused by head impacts: headaches, difficulty concentrating, problems with balance, visual problems and even anger management issues.

A single concussion is bad enough, but multiple studies published in National Academies Press (2014) revealed that experiencing as little as two concussions can sometimes lead to serious life-long problems.

Unfortunately, head hits that occur while playing contact sports are common, and the health repercussions of these impacts can be severe.

Here are six long-term risks of multiple concussions and repetitive head impacts:

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

CTE is a degenerative brain disease that affects athletes, military veterans and anyone who has experienced repeated brain trauma. Specific proteins (called tau proteins) form clumps in the brain of those with CTE, and these clumps eventually spread throughout the brain, permanently damaging and causing the death of brain cells. Progressive memory and cognition loss, depression, suicidal ideation, poor impulse control, aggression, Parkinsonism, and dementia are among the clinical indications of CTE.

Two case reports published in Neurosurgery involving two National Football League (NFL) players were the first to use the phrase. After long careers playing football in high school, college and professionally, these players suffered from a variety of neuropsychological symptoms.

Evidence suggests that CTE is caused by repeated head blows over a period of years, according to Clinics in Sports Medicine (2011). It's crucial to understand that you don't have to have a full-fledged concussion to develop this disease.

Depression

Depression is a mental disorder that affects one's feelings, thoughts and actions. It can limit a person's ability to perform at work, at school and at home. Loss of interest in previously loved hobbies, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances and thoughts of death or suicide are all possible symptoms.

Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (2007) discovered a growing linear association between concussion history and being diagnosed with long-term depression. Retired athletes who had three or more concussions were three times more likely than those who had never had a concussion to be diagnosed with depression. Those who had one or two previous concussions had 1.5 times the chance of being diagnosed with depression.

Dementia Pugilistica

Dementia pugilistica, sometimes known as ‘punch-drunk condition,’ is a neurological disease that affects people who have experienced many concussions. The term ‘pugil’ comes from Latin and means ‘boxer’ or ‘fighter.’ The condition was initially diagnosed in boxers in the 1920s. Tremors, sluggish movement, speech difficulties, disorientation, a lack of coordination and memory loss are all prominent symptoms of this disease.

Dementia pugilistica is a kind of CTE that has some microscopic histological characteristics in common with Alzheimer's disease. While it was first discovered in boxers who were subjected to repeated head hits in a 1973 study published in Psychological Medicine, athletes in other sports may be affected as well.

Neurocognitive Impairments

A concussion's signs and symptoms can often affect one's cognitive abilities, resulting in the inability to concentrate, disorientation, irritation and loss of balance. When you have more than one traumatic brain injury in your life, you may be more likely to experience long-term, possibly progressive, disability that impairs your ability to function.

According to the National Academies Press (2014), studies show that recurrent head impacts in football and hockey players cause abnormalities in cognitive function in the brain. In one study, researchers discovered that the impacted athletes had neurocognitive abnormalities in both working and visual memory. In another study, affected football players were found to have problems with impulse control and balance after the sports season concluded.

Slower Neurological Recovery

Despite the fact that millions of people suffer concussions each year, the risks of a prolonged neurological recovery after multiple concussions are still largely unknown. Nonetheless, according to a study published by the National Academies Press in 2014, a history of many concussions may be linked to a longer recovery of brain function after another concussion. According to the findings, repeated concussions may result in lifelong neurocognitive impaieyerment.

This is why it's crucial to refrain from engaging in any sports or dangerous activities until you've fully recovered from a head impact.

Brain Injury and Your Vision

Head trauma and concussions can have major effects on the visual system, despite normal medical imaging results.  The group symptoms causing blurred vision, eye coordination issues and dizziness following head trauma is called post-trauma vision syndrome.

Even mild concussions can cause visual dysfunction, such as double vision, accommodative dysfunction, convergence insufficiency, sensitivity to light, eye tracking problems and delayed visual processing.

How Can A Neuro-Optometrist Help?

Neuro-optometry is a branch of optometry that focuses on helping individuals with neurological disorders regain their visual and oculomotor skills. Neuro-optometric rehabilitation therapy aims to improve a patient's ability to function independently in a multisensory environment.

At The Vision Therapy Center at North Park Vision Center, we know all too well the challenges that accompany repeated head impacts. To schedule a functional vision evaluation and determine if there is a problem with your visual system, call The Vision Therapy Center at North Park Vision Center today.

The Vision Therapy Center at North Park Vision Center offers neuro-optometric rehabilitation therapy to patients from Westminster, Broomfield, Thornton and the Front Range, Colorado and surrounding communities.

Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. Marcy Rose

Q: What is a concussion?

  • A: A concussion is a type of brain injury in which a blow to the head causes a momentary loss of brain function. When a person's brain is violently moved back and forth or twisted inside the skull due to a direct or indirect force, an injury occurs. A concussion causes disruption in brain function and should be treated as a serious injury. Following a concussion, proper healing and recovery time are critical in preventing additional injury.

Q: What does a neuro-optometrist do?

  • A: A neuro-optometrist can assess functional binocularity, spatial vision and visual processing abilities, as well as functional binocularity and visual processing abilities. Following diagnosis, a comprehensive management program will be prescribed. Neuro-optometrists can also diagnose general eye health problems and correct refractive errors with glasses or contact lenses to increase visual acuity.


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