MISSOULA, Mont. - New research at the University of Montana found that concussions can have a long-term impact on learning ability.
Alex Santos and Sarj Patel are two of the professors who have studied the effects of concussions at UM. They recently tracked the progress of student athletes at the university and discovered athletes can have prolonged symptoms if they return to the field before their brains are fully healed from a concussion. They're also more likely to suffer a second concussion.
Patel, Santos and their team have been developing technology that tracks small changes in the body's central nervous system to determine the severity of concussion symptoms.
"Some of the studies that we are just developing no (are) showing that in a certain percentage (of students), they do not recover completely," said Santos. "We're talking about not only days or moths, we're talking about years."
"Our lab is primarily focused on trying to understand how the brain changes following traumatic brain injury," Patel said.
They say one concussion is unlikely to do permanent damage, but multiple can be devastating to a person's learning ability.
"Those are starting to show us that in some cases, in a portion of those individuals that have had repetitive injuries, also have issues potentially with working or learning memory," Patel added. "These injuries can have long term affects on being able to concentrate, being able to work for long periods of time, fatigue."
They say before athletes hit the field again, they should have a doctor's note to acknowledge vision, balance and cognitive tests are where they need to be.
One of the machines at the University of Montana's Neural Injury Center tests balance. The machine tests the natural sway and stability of your body. Researchers say one concussion symptom is unstable balance.
There is also a vision test to determine a person's reaction time. Subjects wear special goggles and follow red dot light patterns that monitor reaction time--a vital tool in athletics and learning.
"One of the most important things that you have to have is the ability to recognize your environment and then act upon that," Santos added.
"The cornerstone of our research here at the university is to at least help identify individuals and then maybe plan the best course of action or treatment for them," Patel said.
They advise anyone who thinks they may have received a concussion to seek a doctor's advice immediately and not continue to play their sport until fully recovered.