Age & Sex Factors in Head Injuries

Concussion recovery may be more difficult and slow going for younger or female athletes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Girls and young teens are more likely to have a harder time recovering from concussions. Should this affect their medical treatment plans?

Research proves that concussions affect genders and age groups differently. Memory and balance are slower to recover in teens and female athletes.

"Pay attention to medical advice closely when it comes to a concussion."

Tracy Covassin, PhD., from the Department of Kinesiology at Michigan State University, and her colleagues spent two years assessing the outcomes of athletic concussions. They believed that there might be a difference in the recovery rates of these athletes based on gender and age. Turns out they were right.

296 athletes were given the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (ImPACT). Each athlete was evaluated initially, and then 2, 7, and 14 days after receiving a concussion with a Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS). And, balance tests were performed 1, 2, and 3 days after the injury.

The results of the testing showed that female athletes did 5 percent worse on visual memory tests than the males. Females also reported 42 percent more post-concussion symptoms compared to the male group.

High school athletes did 3.9 percent worse on verbal and 3.6 percent worse on visual memory tests compared to college athletes. High school males scored 45 percent worse than college males on the balance tests. High school females scored 25 percent worse than college females.

Covassin stated, “We need to raise awareness that yes, female athletes do get concussions. Too often, when we speak with parents and coaches, they overlook the fact that in comparable sports, females are concussed more than males.”

“Younger athletes appear more at risk for second-impact syndrome, where a second concussion can come with more severe symptoms. While it is rare, there is a serious risk for brain damage, and the risk is heightened when athletes are coming back before they heal.”

This data is valuable knowledge for clinical treatment of athletic concussions. Age and gender are factors when it comes to balance and both verbal and visual memory. More research will be needed to determine what kinds of treatment plans will best treat different genders and age groups for concussions.

According to Covassin, “If we can develop treatments that speak directly to sex and age, I think we can better protect athletes from the long-term side effects of concussions.”

This study was published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, April 26, 2012. Funding for research was provided by a grant from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 8, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012