My children play contact sports and I worry about them suffering concussions. What are the possible long-term effects of multiple concussions, or even just one?
Jeff Cory, PhD answered:
It is certainly understandable that parents these days are concerned about concussions. Fortunately, the prognosis for full recovery after sports concussions (SC) is actually excellent. The vast majority of SC resolve fully and quickly within 7-10 days after the injury; only about 10% take as long as one to three months to fully recover. This favorable prognosis does not suggest that we should not take concussions in our athletic children seriously, of course. A concussion is a mild injury to the brain, and initial symptoms do certainly cause problems, including at school.
What are the short-term risks of SC? It turns out that death in football players suffering multiple concussions in the same game (“second-impact syndrome”) is so rare that this is hardly a notable SC risk. Regarding long-term consequences, it is quite unlikely that a single SC causes dementia later in life. With multiple concussions, we need more scientific investigation, and the reality is likely complex, involving interactions with a person’s genetics and other non-concussion factors. For now, there is actually little evidence to support the idea that dementia (so-called “chronic traumatic encephalopathy”) is a certainty after multiple SC.
Our children benefit from the vigilance of coaches, trainers, team physicians and neuropsychologists who seek to help them to avoid concussions and to recover safely and fully if they have one. Policies and laws (e.g., Montana’s Dylan Seigers law, or our local school district policy) ensure that concussed student-athletes are removed from play until cleared by an appropriately trained medical professional. Overall, we should be reassured about typically rapid and complete recoveries from SC. For children who do not have a typical, quick recovery, consider referral for a neuropsychological evaluation to guide treatment. For more information, visit www.bdhg.org/#specialty_home:31 or www.cdc.gov/concussion/headsup/youth.html.