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Can a brain injury in youth affect you decades later?

California athletes may be interested in the recent and ongoing news coverage about the potential for repeat concussions and brain injuries to lead to long-term cognitive damage and early-onset dementia.

A class-action lawsuit is currently being pursued by 2,000 former professional football players and their wives against their former employer, the NFL. The lawsuit accuses the league of knowing more about the potential long-term health effects of repeat concussions but not doing enough to protect or warn players of the risks.

These players now say that they suffer from early-onset dementia and depression. A recent article asks whether the everyday athlete should also be worried about their long-term cognitive health if they suffered a concussion or two decades ago.

The New York Times article points to a study published in May in the journal Cerebral Cortex. The study involved former athletes that were now in middle age, but who had suffered concussions while playing contact sports in college. The researchers concluded that the former athletes who had sustained concussions had signs of abnormal aging in their brains. In other words, they found that 50-year-old people who had suffered concussions had the brain of a 60-year-old.

While brain injuries affect everyone differently and some more than others, it does seem that repeat concussions can affect a person's cognitive health far down the line. Clearly, it is important that all brain injuries are prevented.

Source: The New York Times, "Head Injuries and the Everyday Athlete," Gretchen Reynolds, July 11, 2012

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