College football players who have suffered a concussion have “significantly smaller” regions of the brain related to memory according to a study published Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the field of concussion research and diagnosis the study results could be considered groundbreaking. The region of the brain affected – the hippocampus – is one of the first to suffer memory loss and disorientation if damaged. According to clinical descriptions, persons with extensive hippocampal damage may suffer amnesia.
Authors of the study called it the most comprehensive ever to assess the effects of football on college players.
The study was conducted by the University of Tulsa and involved comparing 25 football players with a history of concussions to 25 Tulsa students who had never played football. Tulsa faculty member Patrick S.F. Bellgowan called the results “astounding.”
“Other studies have evaluated the effects on older athletes, such as retired NFL players, but no one has studied 20-year-olds until now – and the results were astounding," Bellgowan said in a press release. "The next step is to assess what caused this difference in hippocampus size."
The study concluded that players with a history of concussions had a hippocampus size 24 percent smaller than non-athletes. Also troubling: The study, co-authored by Tulsa trainer David Polanski showed “more years of playing football” resulted in slower reaction times by those players.
The results come at a time when the NCAA and medical community in general are trying to develop diagnosis and treatment methods for head trauma in sports. The NCAA is poised to settle a set of bundled concussion lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois. Stakeholders have begun a national discussion on limited full-padded practices during the season.
"This research shows the correlation,” Polanski said. “The next step is to determine causation so that long-term brain injury can be identified and prevented.”