Concussions in early life linked to long-term memory issues, according to Twins Study.

Concussions in early life linked to long-term memory issues, according to Twins Study.

The Surprising Link Between Concussions and Cognitive Decline


When we think of concussions, we often associate them with short-term symptoms that eventually resolve. However, a recent study has uncovered a surprising long-term effect of concussions on cognitive function. Researchers found that individuals who had experienced concussions in their earlier years were more likely to exhibit lower scores on tests of thinking and memory in their later years. Furthermore, their cognitive skills showed a more rapid decline.

The study, conducted by scientists at Duke University Medical Center, focused on male twins, making it unique in the field of concussion research. By studying identical twins, who share the same genes and early life exposures, the researchers were able to isolate the effects of concussions on cognitive decline.

The study examined data from nearly 7,200 white, male World War II veterans, with an average age of 67 at the start of the study. These individuals took a thinking skills test and were evaluated three more times over a span of 12 years. The results revealed a clear link between earlier concussions and lower test scores at around age 70. The impact of the concussion was even more pronounced if the individual had lost consciousness or was older than 24 at the time of the injury.

While the effect sizes were modest, study author Marianne Chanti-Ketterl, a gerontologist, emphasized that even small declines in cognitive function can be significant. This study raises awareness about the importance of addressing mild traumatic brain injuries and seeking medical help, as they can have long-lasting effects on cognitive health.

The findings of this study have significant implications for healthcare providers, who may now be better equipped to identify individuals at risk of cognitive impairment by considering a history of concussion. Additionally, individuals themselves can take proactive measures to mitigate the impact of concussions on cognitive function, potentially delaying the onset of dementia.

Chanti-Ketterl suggests that staying cognitively engaged through activities like social interaction and physical exercise can help maintain cognitive function. Other interventions, such as addressing hearing loss, can also contribute to preserving cognitive abilities.

It is worth noting that this study focused primarily on brain injuries sustained in early adulthood. The effects of concussions during childhood were not examined, and parents looking for information on contact sports and safety should seek additional research in that area.

Dr. Holly Elser, an epidemiologist and resident physician in neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, co-wrote an editorial accompanying the research, highlighting the importance of long-duration follow-up studies like this one. Elser also emphasized the need for preventative measures, such as wearing helmets and seatbelts to reduce the risk and severity of head injuries.

Concussions are not limited to younger adults; older adults are also at risk, with falls being a common cause of head injuries. Elser underlines the importance of utilizing assistive devices like canes, walkers, and grab bars to prevent falls and protect older individuals from potential concussions.

While this study relied on self-reported traumatic brain injuries, which can be subject to inaccuracies, the findings provide valuable insight into the long-term cognitive consequences of concussions. The research was supported by the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the U.S. Department of Defense.

As we continue to learn more about concussions and their impact, understanding their long-term effects on cognitive health is crucial. By taking proactive measures and seeking early interventions, individuals can possibly safeguard their cognitive abilities and maintain optimal brain function as they age.

Question: What Does ADHD Stand for?

The abbreviation ADHD refers to the condition commonly known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.


For more information on concussion prevention and management, you can visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.


  • Marianne Chanti-Ketterl, PhD, MSPH, gerontologist and assistant professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and senior fellow, Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University, Durham, N.C.
  • Holly Elser, MD, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist and resident physician, neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • Neurology, Sept. 6, 2023, online