Football and your child’s brain

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

Eat your vegetables. Be good to your momma. Change your underwear.

Good, solid advice. Maybe we need to add: “Don’t damage your brain. You’re going to need it someday.”

More and more evidence is accumulating that football, or at least football as it’s currently being played in high schools and colleges, is causing irreversible brain damage. The latest study was published in JAMA this week. Researchers looked at 25 collegiate football players (who had played in high school), and compared both brain imaging and cognitive performance with students who hadn’t played college. They correlated their findings with the number of years of football experience, and the number of recalled concussions.

Bottom line: concussions correlate with a loss of brain volume in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with memory recall and the regulation of emotions. Not only were concussions correlated, but  the number of years playing football also correlated with this change in MRI scans and with deficits in cognitive testing, including tests of reaction time and impulsivity.

The study itself wasn’t large, and relied only on the students’ recall of concussions. And it does not establish causality—maybe people with smaller hippocampi are more attracted to football, or tend to have more concussions (though no other research suggests this). Still, studies like this add to the considerable evidence that the kind of high-impact head trauma that occurs during football is causing real damage to real brains.

What can we do about it? There are steps individual families can make to protect their own children, especially by recognizing and treating concussions when they occur. Beyond that, we’ll have to see if coaches, athletes, and families are willing to risk brain damage to continue traditional football programs. Are the benefits worth the risk? It’s time to talk about it.

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3 Comments on “Football and your child’s brain”

  1. supermouse Says:

    Do people who play ice hockey tend to get many concussions also?

    Like

  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Supermouse: yes.

    Like

  3. Dr. Roy Says:

    Speaking of hockey and concussions:
    http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/35/6/22.full

    Like


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