Head Trauma Speeds Up Brain Aging
Concussions and even minor bumps to the head can speed up the brain’s aging process, according to a University of Michigan study published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews journal. The study results suggest that the brains of concussion sufferers have signaling pathways that deteriorate more rapidly than the brains of those who've never suffered a brain injury or concussion.
Of 224 college athletes asked to perform tasks in front of a computer while investigators took images of their brains, 162 of the participants had never had a previous head injury and 62 had had anywhere from one to four concussions.
Researchers found that there were differences in the brain's electrical activity, particularly in attention and impulse control, as well as general gait and balance in participants who had suffered a brain injury compared to those who had not. Though the differences between the study groups were subtle and none of the participants exhibited behavioral differences, brain declines were present in the participants in the brain injury group up to six years after injury, according to Christine Hsu, who reported on the study for Medicaldaily.com on August 2.
The researchers explained that younger brains transfer electrical signals rapidly. As people age, pathways in their brains break down and information, like traffic on old highways, cannot be transferred as quickly. They wrote that concussions and other impacts to the head may lead to "potholes" in the brain's highway, which may result in varying degrees of damage and speeding up of the pathway's natural deterioration. The findings suggested that the more head trauma a person experiences the higher the risk for accelerated brain aging and deterioration of their brain's signaling pathways.