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Coronado et al. (2015) estimated that 329,290 children, aged 19 years and younger, were treated for sports and recreation injuries, including concussion, in emergency rooms during 2012. Further, they found that the number of concussions within this age group doubled since 2001. Many states now have laws regarding concussion education and testing for youth to high school level sports. While diagnosed concussions are important to evaluate, contact below the level necessary for concussion seems to accumulate over the course of a season (e.g., Abbas et al., 2015). This study examined sub-concussive hits and changes in neurocognitive assessment within a single season. The ImPACT test is a commonly used baseline and post-injury neurocognitive assessment for concussion. It includes composite scores for verbal memory, visual memory, visual motor speed, reaction time, and impulse control as well as an efficiency index score that compares speed of responding and accuracy. This test was given to college and youth football players during the preseason prior to the start of practices. One week after the season ended, players who did not receive a concussion during the season were asked to complete an end-of-season test. Approximately 33 and 52 percent of the DIII college and middle school football players, respectively, completed the end-of-season test. A series of 2x2 ANOVAs were conducted to look at differences on the ImPACT composite scores from preseason to end-of-season for youth and college football players. Overall, the results suggest that there are no meaningful differences in the cognitive domains examined by the ImPACT test over the course of a football season regardless of age. However, using rs-fMRI, Slobounov et al. (2017) found significant differences in the cingulate cortex and hippocampus among FBS football players within a single season. These differences were observed in the absence of clinical symptoms or a diagnosed concussion. Therefore, it appears that behavioral symptoms and neurocognitive assessments are not sensitive enough to detect the pathophysiological changes that take place in the brain due to sub-concussive hits absorbed over the course of a football season.


Poster presented at the 126th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. San Francisco, CA. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.19922.04801

See the Koch Cognition Lab for related research.