No Seasonal Changes in Cognitive Functioning Among High School Football Athletes: Implementation of a Novel Electrophysiological Measure and Standard Clinical Measures

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Abstract

Objective:

To evaluate neuroelectric and cognitive function relative to a season of football participation. Cognitive and neuroelectric function declines are hypothesized to be present in football athletes.

Design:

Observational.

Setting:

Athletic fields and research laboratory.

Patients (or Participants):

Seventy-seven high school athletes (15.9 + 0.9 years, 178.6 + 7.2 cm, 74.4 + 14.7 kg, and 0.8 + 0.8 self-reported concussions) participating in football (n = 46) and noncontact sports (n = 31).

Interventions (or Assessment of Risk Factors):

All athletes completed preseason, midseason, and postseason assessments of cognitive and neuroelectric function, self-reported symptoms, and quality of life. All athletes participated in their respective sports without intervention, while head impact exposure in football athletes was tracked using the Head Impact Telemetry System.

Main Outcome Measures:

Cognitive performance was based on Cogstate computerized cognitive assessment tool processing speed, attention, learning, working memory speed, and working memory accuracy scores. ElMindA brain network activation amplitude, synchronization, timing and connectivity brain network activation scores demarcated neuroelectric performance. Quality of life was assessed on the Health Behavior Inventory and Satisfaction with Life Scale and symptoms on the SCAT3 inventory.

Results:

Football and control sport athletes did not show declines in cognitive or neuroelectric function, quality-of-life measures, or symptom reports across a season of sport participation.

Conclusions:

These findings refute the notion that routine football participation places athletes at risk for acute cognitive declines. The lack of impairment may be associated with no association with head impacts and cognitive function, increased physical activity offsetting any declines, and/or test sensitivity. How these findings are associated with long-term cognitive function is unknown.

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