More Than A Bump On The Head

Concussions have long lasting effects on attention and switching tasks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Injuries can be a matter of course for sports-loving teenagers. But when it comes to injuries to the head, it may be necessary to take extra care to prevent long lasting effects.

A recent study looked at the effects of concussions in adolescents in the two months after the head injury. Researchers found that teens who had concussions had a weakened ability to focus and to switch tasks readily when distracted during the two months following head injury.

"Seek immediate care for head injuries."

David Howell, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, and colleagues studied 40 high school students who played sports. Of these 40 participants, 20 were identified as having a sports-related concussion and the other 20 study participants served as healthy comparisons.

Concussed study participants were tested for attention and task switching ability within 72 hours of receiving the head injury. The tests were repeated at one week, two weeks, one month and two months after the injury.

Participants in the comparison group were tested at similar intervals as the concussed students.

Two months after the head injury, teens from both groups had similar rates of executive function, or daily planning and function.

When it came to switching tasks and holding attention, the concussed group performed more poorly than the comparison group. The concussed patients took on average 38 milliseconds longer to switch tasks and 34 milliseconds longer to assess change in the attention measuring test.

The researchers believe that these poorer test scores at two months after injury mean that athletes have longer recovery periods than conventional wisdom and medicine dictate. The current recommended recovery period for concussion is seven to ten days.

The differences between the two groups were small but could make a difference when it comes to safety in sports, according to the researchers. Those who have had a concussion before are more likely to have a concussion again.

The study was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Funding was provided by the Department of Defense Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, National Athletic Trainers Association, Veterans Administration and the University of Oregon PeaceHealth Oregon Region collaboration program.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 7, 2013
Last Updated:
February 10, 2013