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Teen Brain Takes Biggest Sports Hits

The teen brain suffers more long-term damage from concussions than does the child or adult brain. Katherine Harmon reports

The teenage brain is special. Less plastic than a child's developing brain, but not yet with all of the executive functions of an adult noggin. And that makes them more vulnerable to long-term effects of head injury, according to new research. Especially when it comes to sports-related concussions.

In football, soccer, hockey or rugby, the top-front of the head usually receives the brunt of the blow. And that region is where the all-important executive function areas are forming for teenagers: the frontal cortex.

To learn more, researchers recruited 96 male sports participants ages nine through 26--half of whom had had a diagnosed concussion in the past year. Using a battery of memory, attention, motor tests and EEG monitors, the researchers found that all of the concussed athletes showed reduced working memory.

But the adolescents had the most cognitive impairment, even if months had passed since their injury, and they reported feeling just fine. The findings are in the journal Brain Injury. [Annie Baillargeon et al., "Neuropsychological and Neurophysiological Assessment of Sport Concussion In Children, Adolescents and Adults"]

So for high school athletes, a rough hit could lead to problems lasting longer than a bad headache.

--Katherine Harmon

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]  

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