The ability to focus and switch tasks readily amid distractions was compromised for up to two months following brain concussions suffered by high school athletes, according to a study at the University of Oregon.
Research team members, in an interview, said the discovery suggests that some athletes may need longer recovery periods than current practices dictate to lower the risk of subsequent concussions. Conventional wisdom, said lead author David Howell, a graduate student in the UO Department of Human Physiology, says that typical recovery from concussion takes seven to 10 days.
"The differences we detected may be a matter of milliseconds between a concussed person and a control subject, but as far as brain time goes that difference for a linebacker returning to competition too soon could mean the difference between another injury or successfully preparing to safely tackle an oncoming running back," Howell said.
The findings are based on cognitive exercises used five times over the two months with a pair of sensitive computer-based measuring tools — the attentional network test and the task-switching test. The study focused on the effects of concussions to the frontal region of the brain, which is responsible for working, or short-term, memory and executive function, said Li-Shan Chou, professor of human physiology and director of the UO Motion Analysis Laboratory.
The study was published online ahead of print by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.