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CARE Consortium: Estimated age at first exposure to contact sports and neurocognitive performance in service academy athletes

Age of first exposure to contact sport has uncertain implications for later life brain health. There are currently no prospective studies that have evaluated this possibility. This study, helmed by Jaclyn Caccese, a postdoctoral research fellow at Delaware, relied on data from the ongoing NCAA-Department of Defense Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium study to examine the association between estimated age of first exposure to contact sport participation and neurocognitive performance and symptom ratings in male U.S. service academy NCAA athletes. Their findings were published in abstract format in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

What did the study find?

The team examined baseline cognitive data from 891 male cadets who completed the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing test before participation in a range of contact and noncontact sports. Using age 12 as a benchmark, researchers found no association among estimated age of first exposure, contact sport participation, neurocognitive functioning or subjectively experienced symptoms in the studied cohort. Earlier estimated age of first exposure to contact sport participation was not found to be related to worse neurocognitive performance or greater subjectively experienced symptoms in male U.S. service academy NCAA athletes. The results further inform findings from a similar study led by Caccese that examined CARE data related to NCAA football student-athletes, which were published in Sports Medicine in early 2019. 

What are the implications?

This study provides preliminary evidence that age of first exposure to contact sport is not associated with neurocognitive impairment in college athletes.   

What’s next?

The methodology of this study differs considerably from other work that relies on web-based surveys from convenient samples, and, therefore, the results cannot be compared with those studies. Additionally, further evaluation of members of the same cohort should be studied across their lifespans to see if data shifts over time and later in life.