It is estimated that as many as 3.8 million concussions occur in the USA per year during competitive sports. Sport-related concussions are known to cause short- and long-term cognitive impairments. However, the mechanism underlying these persistent cognitive changes and long-term neurodegeneration is not fully understood. The literature has extensively focused on contact sports vulnerable to concussions, such as football, hockey, rugby, and basketball. Athletes that practice combat sports - boxing, Muay Thai, mixed martial arts (MMA) – are also subject to brain trauma. Fighters are not only subject to severe concussions, comparable to those experienced by contact sports athletes, but also to sustained mild traumatic brain injuries, which cause physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. Although these symptoms often resolve within one month, in some individuals they can persist for years following injury and may even be permanent and cause disability. To our knowledge, studies have scarcely focused on the cognitive consequences of mild traumatic brain injuries on cognitive abilities in combat sports athletes. The aim of this study is to assess the effect of brain injuries on mnestic abilities in contact and combat sports. We tested 3 groups: rugby athletes, combat sports fighters, and controls. Participants performed two mnestic tests: pattern separation (MST), a measure of episodic memory, and N_Back2-3, a measure of working memory. The results showed that fighters (boxers, muay thai, and MMA) performed worse in both tasks compared to rugby players and controls. These results suggest that athletes subjected to mild repeated brain injuries might present impairments in the encoding and storage of similar stimuli into distinct, non-overlapping representations and in working memory capacity. Further studies are required to better understand which types of concussions are the most detrimental to cognition in combat sports, in order to develop strategies to assess and monitor fighters’ neuropsychological health.
The effects of brain concussions on memory in combat and contact sports / Santirocchi, Alessandro; Spataro, Pietro; Clelia, Rossi-Arnaud; Cianfanelli, Beatrice; Costanzi, Marco; Cestari, Vincenzo. - (2021). ((Intervento presentato al convegno European Workshop on Imagery and Cognition tenutosi a Online.