ANN ARBOR, Mich., July 31 (UPI) -- Concussions and head impacts may hasten the brain's natural aging process, U.S. researchers suggest.
Steven Broglio of the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and the University of Michigan Health System and colleagues analyzed data of college students with and without a history of concussion, and found changes in gait, balance and in the brain's electrical activity, specifically attention and impulse control.
Researchers asked participants to perform certain tasks at a computer and took images of their brains. The brains of the non-concussed group showed a greater area of electrical activation than those of participants with a history of brain injury.
"The signaling pathways in our brains are analogous to a five-lane highway. On a new highway, traffic runs smoothly and quickly as all lanes are in top shape," Broglio said in a statement. "However, during normal aging, the asphalt deteriorates and lanes might become bumpy or even unusable. Traffic slows."
Concussive and other impacts to the head may result in a "pothole" on the brain's highway, causing varying degrees of damage and speeding the pathway's natural deterioration, Broglio said.
"The last thing we want is for people to panic. Just because you've had a concussion does not mean your brain will age more quickly or you'll get Alzheimer's," Broglio said in a statement. "We are only proposing how being hit in the head may lead to these other conditions, but we don't know how it all goes together just yet."
Broglio stressed that other factors -- such as lifestyle choices, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical exercise, family history and keeping the brain stimulated -- also affect the brain's aging process, so concussion might only be one small factor.
The findings were published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
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