Research suggests one season of rugby can impact cognitive function of players

02 Sept 2021

New research from the University of South Wales examining the impact of sports-related concussion on cognitive function has found that players experience reduced blood blow to the brain and decreased cognitive function after just one season.

The research team conducted two concurrent studies, one monitoring the current Cardiff Blues rugby team over the course of a sports' season, and the other study examining a group of retired rugby players aged between 60 and 80.

The researchers aimed to discover the impact of recurrent concussion across the lifespan of rugby union players, with the first study looking at the effects of sport-related concussion on a person’s brain function and cognitive ability while the second examined the consequences of concussion on brain health across the adult lifespan.

PhD student Tom Owens, co-leads the research, said in a statement:

'Sport-related concussion affects millions of people around the world, and poses a significant health concern, yet remains one of the least understood injuries facing the sports medicine community.

'We suspected that rugby players would show signs of reduced brain function, and that these impairments would be most apparent in the retired players. Evidence suggests that recurrent concussion may contribute to long-term neurologic disorders in later life – for example, retired contact sport athletes with three or more concussions are five times more likely to suffer mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is known to increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and dementia.'

This research into the correlation between head injury and the likelihood of cognitive impairment joins several other studies which have found a similar relationship.

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