Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can occur from a blow to the head or a sudden jolt. But what are the long-term effects of concussions?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 214,110 TBI-related hospitalizations in 2020 alone. While they are often associated with sports-related incidents, concussions can result from various accidents and situations. The immediate symptoms of a concussion are well-known, such as temporary loss of consciousness. However, understanding their long-term effects is equally crucial.
Let’s go over the physical, cognitive and emotional effects as well as answer common questions about concussions.
First, what are the long-term physical effects?
While most people recover fully from a single concussion, repeated concussions or inadequate recovery can lead to the following lingering physical issues.
- Post-concussion syndrome (PCS): Some individuals experience PCS, a condition where concussion symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue and memory problems that persist for weeks, months or even years after the initial injury. Understanding PCS is essential because it emphasizes the importance of proper recovery and management following a concussion, including seeking medical attention right away.
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE): Multiple concussions or head injuries over time have been linked to the development of CTE, a degenerative brain condition associated with mood swings, memory loss, cognitive decline and even severe behavioral changes. CTE is most commonly found in athletes exposed to repetitive head trauma, such as football players and boxers. The long-term consequences of CTE highlight the need for effective prevention and management strategies for concussions, particularly in high-risk activities.
What are the long-term cognitive effects?
Concussions can have a profound impact on cognitive function for individuals as well.
- Memory issues: Both short-term and long-term memory can be affected, making it challenging to recall recent events or retain new information. Memory problems can affect academic and work performance, as well as daily tasks.
- Attention and concentration: Concussion patients often struggle with focusing on tasks or maintaining attention for extended periods. This can be particularly challenging in school or work settings where concentration is crucial.
- Processing speed: Cognitive processing speed may decrease, making it harder to process information quickly and efficiently. This can affect an individual’s ability to keep up with conversations, follow instructions or perform tasks that require quick thinking.
- Executive function: Concussions can impact higher-order cognitive skills like planning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Individuals may find it more challenging to make decisions, organize tasks or set and achieve goals. As you can imagine, this can have significant implications in both the personal and professional life.
What are the long-term emotional effects?
Additionally, the emotional toll of concussions should not be underestimated. They include:
- Mood disorders: Concussions can trigger mood swings, depression, anxiety and irritability. These emotional changes can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life and relationships.
- Emotional regulation: Managing emotions becomes harder for some concussion survivors, potentially leading to emotional outbursts and difficulties in social interactions. These changes can affect an individual’s personal and professional relationships.
- Personality changes: In some cases, concussions can alter an individual’s personality, turning them into someone significantly different from their pre-injury self. Such changes can be distressing for both the individual and their loved ones.
Are there people who are at more risk for the long-term effects of concussions?
Yes, certain factors can influence the likelihood and severity of long-term effects, such as:
- Repetitive injuries: Multiple concussions increase the risk of long-term issues, particularly CTE. Athletes in a contact sport are at a higher risk of sustaining multiple concussions, highlighting the need for strict safety measures and concussion protocols.
- Age: Age plays a role in the severity of concussion symptoms and recovery. Children, teenagers and older adults tend to experience more severe and prolonged symptoms than young adults.
- Recovery time: Adequate rest and recovery after a concussion are crucial in allowing the brain to heal properly. Rushing back to physical or mental activities too soon can extend the healing process and increase the chances of lasting effects.
- Pre-existing conditions: Individuals with a history of mental health issues or prior head injuries may be more susceptible to long-term effects.
How can I prevent the long-term effects of concussions?
Taking proactive measures can help reduce the risk of long-term effects of concussions in the first place.
- Proper diagnosis: Early and accurate diagnosis of concussions is crucial for appropriate management and treatment.
- Rest and recovery: Adequate rest, both physically and mentally, is vital in allowing the brain to heal properly.
- Gradual return to activities: Individuals should follow a supervised and gradual return-to-play or return-to-work protocol to avoid re-injury.
- Wearing protective equipment: In sports and high-risk activities, wearing appropriate protective gear can significantly lower the risk of concussions.
The long-term effects of concussions should not be taken lightly.