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Brain changes found in football players thought to be concussion-free

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A study by researchers at Purdue University suggests that some high school football players suffer undiagnosed changes in brain function and continue playing even though they are impaired.

"Our key finding is a previously undiscovered category of cognitive impairment," said Thomas Talavage, an expert in functional neuroimaging who is an associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering and co-director of the Purdue MRI Facility.

The findings represent a dilemma because they suggest athletes may suffer a form of injury that is difficult to diagnose.

"The problem is that the usual clinical signs of a head injury are not present," said Larry Leverenz, an expert in athletic training and a clinical professor of health and kinesiology. "There is no sign or symptom that would indicate a need to pull these players out of a practice or game, so they just keep getting hit."

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing online this week in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

The team of researchers screened and monitored 21 players at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind.

"The athletes wore helmets equipped with six sensors called accelerometers, which relay data wirelessly to equipment on the sidelines during each play," said Eric Nauman, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and an expert in central nervous system and musculoskeletal trauma.

Impact data from each player were compared with brain-imaging scans and cognitive tests performed before, during and after the season. The researchers also shot video of each play to record and study how the athletes sustained impacts.

Whereas previous research studying football-related head trauma has focused on players diagnosed with concussions, the Purdue researchers tested all of the players. They were surprised to find cognitive impairment in players who hadn't been diagnosed with concu

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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