High-profile sports like football and soccer have shone a spotlight on concussions, but these mild traumatic brain injuries are actually very common in everyday life. While athletes often receive attention for their concussions, many people do not realize the long road to recovery and the importance of understanding concussions for brain health.
Concussions can occur from various causes, including sports-related injuries, abusive head trauma, blast exposure, car accidents, and falls. The severity of a concussion is diagnosed based on symptoms, brain imaging, and neurologic exams. Contrary to popular belief, losing consciousness is not a requirement for a concussion diagnosis. Confusion, sensitivity to noise and lights, sleep disturbances, and mood changes are common symptoms that should not be ignored.
Interestingly, some people mistakenly believe that if they don’t lose consciousness, they haven’t experienced a concussion. In reality, a significant portion of concussions may go unnoticed or undiagnosed. It is essential for those who don’t feel like they have fully recovered from a concussion to seek further treatment. Chronic symptoms that persist beyond three months are known as post-concussive syndrome, affecting around 10% of individuals with a concussion.
Despite the lack of clear understanding regarding the long-term effects of concussions on the brain, it is crucial to take steps toward supporting brain health. Research has shown that the brain has a mode of repair known as neuroplasticity. After an injury, the brain can rewire itself at a cellular level and find new ways to restore critical abilities. Neuroplasticity also explains why each brain injury is unique, even if they have similar causes.
To minimize the risk of further injuries and support brain health, focusing on cognitive reserves is vital. Higher levels of cognitive reserves have been linked to lower risks of prolonged problems after a concussion. Cognitive reserves can be built and maintained through activities that stimulate brain function, such as maintaining an active social life, engaging in mentally challenging tasks, and learning new skills.
In conclusion, concussions are more common and impactful than most people realize. Understanding the recovery process and supporting brain health through activities that enhance cognitive reserves can help individuals navigate the aftermath of a concussion and minimize long-term effects.