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CARE Consortium: Influence of age at first concussion

Those who suffer a concussion in childhood found to have increased risk of suffering another

Previous studies have suggested that individuals who sustain their first concussion during childhood could be at a higher risk of sustaining multiple concussions through their lifetime. But does the age that an individual first experiences a concussion have an influence over the number of subsequent concussions someone may experience? To seek an answer, Julianne Schmidt, an assistant professor in Georgia’s Department of Kinesiology, led a team of researchers that examined self-reported data from 23,582 college student-athletes, including service academy cadets, taking part in the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium study. Her findings were published in April in the medical journal Pediatric Neurology.

What did the study find?

Those who self-reported a concussion in childhood had more than double the risk of suffering a subsequent concussion than those whose first concussion occurred during adolescence. For every additional year that passed in life before the initial concussion, researchers identified a 16 percent reduction in the individual’s risk of suffering another concussion later in life. And more than 10 percent of those who reported suffering a concussion in childhood suffered three or more by age 18, triple the rate of those whose first concussions came during adolescence.

What are the implications?

Most studies on concussion in sport to date have focused on concussion risk in high school and college, but these findings suggest that injuries suffered in youth may have a pronounced effect on susceptibility to additional concussion injury later in life. This study supports the body of literature indicating that prior concussion is an independent risk factor for subsequent concussion, but expands it by confirming that the lengthened window of vulnerability to sustaining subsequent concussion results in a higher overall number of concussions before age 18.

The lengthened interval of exposure may mean that college student-athletes who sustain a concussion at a young age are more likely to report to college with a history of multiple concussions. Given that, extra care needs to be paid to mitigate concussion risk at the youth level. “Feasible advancements in concussion prevention, recognition, and reporting at the youth sport level are needed,” the study noted.

What’s next?

The study had limitations: It relied on self-reported injury histories that depended heavily on the accurate recollection of participants. There was little measure of duration of exposure to primary and secondary sports that would allow research control for how long participants played or when participants first enrolled in certain high-risk sports during youth. It did not account for risk factors related to individual risk-seeking behaviors or personal medical histories that create predisposition for concussion. Future studies should be designed to evaluate how these additional factors may correlate with these early findings.