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Age Not a Factor in Post-Concussion Symptoms, Study Finds

Are concussion symptoms worse and/or more plentiful for middle and high school student-athletes than for collegiate athletes? Not according to a study published online today in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers retroactively examined a database of information from 2009-2011 on baseline (pre-concussion) and post-concussion symptoms in middle/high school and collegiate athletes. The data were gathered using the ImPACT neuropsychological test battery, which was mainly administered by certified athletic trainers  and neuropsychologists.

Ultimately, of the 740 athletes with baseline ImPACT test data and a sports-related concussion, the researchers included 184 athletes in the study (92 were between 13- and 16-years-old; the other 92 were between 18- and 22-years old) who were matched in regard to gender, number of previous concussions, and time to their first post-concussion test. There were 52 females and 40 males in each age group, and athletes in both age groups suffered an average of 0.2 to 0.6 concussions prior to the study.

The researchers hypothesized that younger athletes would experience more post-concussion symptoms of greater severity than college-aged athletes and would take longer to return to baseline, too. Their findings, however, disproved those theories.

Both at baseline and post-concussion, there were no statistically significant differences between age groups in terms of the number of symptoms or symptom severity. Athletes in each age group reported a similar number of symptoms and severity of symptoms both at baseline and after suffering a concussion.

The researchers found that a grand majority of athletes in both age groups returned to baseline within 30 days of suffering a concussion (88, or 95.7 percent of 13- to 16-year-olds; 89, or 96.7 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds). However, it did take younger athletes an average of 1.3 days longer to return to baseline, which "bordered on statistical significance," the study authors wrote.

"In the evaluation of sports-related concussion, it is imperative to parse out different ways of assessing outcomes: neurocognitive scores versus symptom endorsement versus balance issues, school performance, etc.," Dr. Scott Zuckerman, one of the study's authors and a resident at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said in a statement. "It appears that symptoms may not be a prominent driver when assessing outcomes of younger versus older athletes."

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