Recently released research suggests there might be a point at which blows to the head or other head trauma suffered in combat sports begins to affect memory and thinking abilities. This new study, which is scheduled to be presented as part of the Emerging Science program at the American Academy of Neurology’s 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans April 21-28, goes on to say that head trauma can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain.
The author of the study and a member of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), St. Paul, Minn, says that while it already known boxing and other sports are linked to brain damage, little is known about how this process develops and who may be on the path to developing CTE. Although CTE is only diagnosed through autopsy after death, symptoms include memory loss, aggression, and difficulty thinking.
For the study, data from 35 boxers and 43 mixed martial arts athletes with an average age of 29 years who were a part of the ongoing Professional Fighters Brain Health Study were examined. The participants took computer tests that measured memory and thinking skills, as well as underwent MRI brain scans. In addition, researchers recorded years of fighting and number of fights for each participant based on self-reporting and published records. They then split the participants into two groups: those who fought for 9 years or fewer and those who had been fighting for more than 9 years.
According to the results, in both groups those with more years of fighting and more fights per year were more likely to have lower brain volumes in three areas of the brain. In those who had spent less time in the industry, no relationship was found between years of fighting or the number of fights per year and the results on memory and thinking tests. However, among those who had fought for 9 years or more, the individuals who had more fights per year performed worse on the thinking and memory tests than those with fewer fights per year.
There appears to be a threshold at which continued repetitive blows to the brain begin to cause measurable changes in memory and thinking, despite brain volume changes that can be found earlier.
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