Background: Sports-related concussions (SRC) among high school and collegiate athletes represent a significant public health concern. The Concussion in Sport Group (CIS) recommended greater caution regarding return to play with children and adolescents. We hypothesized that younger athletes would take longer to return to neurocognitive baseline than older athletes after a SRC.
Methods: Two hundred adolescent and young adult athletes who suffered a SRC were included in our clinical research cohort. Of the total participants, 100 were assigned to the 13-16 year age group and 100 to the 18-22 year age group and were matched on the number of prior concussions. Each participant completed baseline and postconcussion neurocognitive testing using the Immediate Post-Concussion assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) test battery. Return to baseline was defined operationally as post-concussion neurocognitive and symptom scores being equivalent to baseline using reliable change index (RCI) criteria. For each group, the average number of days to return to cognitive and symptom baseline were calculated. Independent sample t-tests were used to compare the mean number of days to return to baseline.
Results: Significant differences were found for days to return to baseline between 13-16 year olds and 18-22 year olds in three out of four neurocognitive measures and on the total symptom score. The average number of days to return to baseline was greater for 13-16 year olds than for 18-22 year olds on the following variables: Verbal memory (7.2 vs. 4.7, P = 0.001), visual memory (7.1 vs. 4.7, P = 0.002), reaction time (7.2 vs. 5.1 P = 0.01), and postconcussion symptom scale (8.1 vs. 6.1, P = 0.026). In both groups, greater than 90% of athletes returned to neurocognitive and symptom baseline within 1 month.
Conclusions: Our results in this clinical research study show that in SRC, athletes 13-16 years old take longer to return to their neurocognitive and symptom baselines than athletes 18-22 years old.
Keywords: Age; concussion; immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing; mild traumatic brain injury; sports.