Multiple Concussions Linked to Decrease in Executive Brain Functions

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Robert Ross, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
McConnell Hall, Room 424
University of New Hampshire 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: In the United States, 1.5-2 million people suffer from mild traumatic brain injuries, more commonly referred to as concussions, per year.

There is a large body of work illustrating the cognitive impairments associated with concussions in the immediate aftermath of the concussive event. However, it is not clear whether concussions can change cognition more long-term and how concussions might change how the brain functions during specific types of cognition.

In our study, we examined executive function, which is a cognitive process that helps control or manage other cognitive functions, in a group of healthy young adults aged 18-24 that had suffered at least two concussions and compared their performance and their brain oscillations to a group that had not suffered any concussions. Brain oscillations help the brain coordinate the activity of the thousands of neurons necessary for any sort of cognitive process to occur. The participants in the study self-reported their concussions with all concussions occurring at least one month prior to participating in the experiment.

 MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? 

Response: The specific executive function task was picked to examine cognitive flexibility, or a person’s ability to shift from one task to another.  We show that overall performance in the executive function task is less in people that have suffered 2 or more concussions compared to an age-matched group that had no reported concussions. We also show that brain oscillations that have been linked to attention and executive function are changed in those that have had multiple concussions. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Multiple concussions can have small long-term effects to an individual’s executive function, even in a population of generally healthy young adults. These changes in executive function are in part due to changes in how the brain communicates information within and across brain regions. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Now that we know that brain oscillations are changed by concussions and that those oscillatory changes are associated with decreased executive function, we can design intervention studies that might increase executive function abilities. There are different cognitive training techniques that change brain oscillations which could be tested to determine whether they mitigate the decrease in performance we found.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We want to emphasize that the decrease in executive function we see in the task does not reflect abnormal cognitive abilities. The participants with multiple concussions performed well on the executive function task. They just did not perform as well as those that had not had any concussions.

Citation:

Stephanie E. Barlow, Paolo Medrano, Daniel R. Seichepine, Robert S. Ross. Investigation of the changes in oscillatory power during task switching after mild traumatic brain injury. European Journal of Neuroscience, 2018; 48 (12): 3498 DOI: 10.1111/ejn.14231

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