A new study from Boston University is arguing that repetitive hits to the head over years of playing sports are a more significant factor than individual concussions in predicting cognitive issue later in life.
The study, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma on Thursday, found that the cumulative number of hits suffered by an athlete had a noticeable link to memory and mood issues later in life. Researchers also found that past studies had been too focused on actual concussions.
“There has been a tremendous amount of growth in the last several years in the prevention, detection, and management of symptomatic concussions across all levels of play and all sports. That’s fantastic,” Dr. Robert Stern, one of the study’s co-authors, said to the Washington Post. “The problem is that the focus on concussion has taken away from an appropriate discussion about the more common subconcussive trauma.”
The study estimated the total number of hits to the head suffered by football players based on the total number of years played. The authors used recently published date from helmet accelerometer studies that have calculated the average number of hits per season in their estimates.
The mean total impacts for the group studied, which ranged in age from 24 to 82, was 7,742.
The authors of the paper, who studied 93 men who played football at the high school and college level, admitted that the study was not conclusive due to the limited sample size.
The studied did not directly address Chronic Traumatic Encaphalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed after death.