Old Brain Trauma May Come Back to Haunt You

The symptoms of delayed brain trauma have been recognized in professional athletes for years. Less well documented is the lingering effect of early brain trauma on ordinary Americans. For some older Americans, head trauma they experienced earlier in their lives may begin to manifest itself after they turn 50.

Researchers have shown that damage to the brain caused by concussion can last for decades after the original head trauma. A recent study comparing healthy athletes to those of the same age who suffered from a concussion 30 years ago showed that those who experienced head trauma had symptoms similar to those of early Parkinson’s disease, as well as memory and attention deficits.

Scientists divide such trauma into transient brain injuries—where symptoms dissipate after seven to 10 days—and more severe traumatic brain injuries that have long-term cognitive consequences.

Risk is lower for those who experienced a single uncomplicated concussion early in life, but higher for those who suffered a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. When you add other factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the risk increases even more.

Concussion causes temporary loss of brain function leading to cognitive, physical and emotional symptoms, such as confusion, vomiting, headache, nausea, depression, disturbed sleep, moodiness, and amnesia. However, even when the symptoms of a concussion appear to have gone, the brain is still not yet 100 percent normal. Abnormal brain wave activity can continue for years after a concussion, as well partial wasting away of the motor pathways, which can lead to significant attention problems.

It’s good to know that people over 55 who suffer a moderate to severe concussion recover to about the same degree as younger people, but it may take them twice as long to recover as their younger counterparts.

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