So, the background here is simple: Some people get hit hard on the head and bounce right up and continue doing whatever it is that they were doing pre-hit, without any hint of a neurological problem as a consequence of that hit: No headache, no dizziness, no lingering neurological or cognitive deficit.
On the ubiquitous other hand, some people take months to fully recover from even a mild hit on the noggin.
And a few, of course, never return to normal following a concussion.
So why the difference?
Why are some people seemingly unaffected by hits to the head while others suffer some type of deficit?
Or to put it in terms that parents will pay some attention to, why does heading the ball repeatedly in soccer lead some of the headers to seemingly suffer from some kind of cognitive deficit while others do not?
Well, according to a recent study in JAMA Neurology , the answer may be: Genes.
In this study, researchers analyzed data from 352 amateur players (average age 23, all males, all had played for six months or more yearly for five or more years), over a period of just over 4 years.
And although these results have to be viewed with caution because there are so many possible conflicting variables, the conclusion was that players who carried a gene knows as APOE ε4 that is known to be linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease had a significantly worse score on a test of cognition called “verbal memory task ” compared to other players who headed the ball as much as the former did.
So should all young budding soccer stars be screened for this gene before they embark on their soccer career?
Way too early to say, I’m afraid, but in general, heading a ball repeatedly doesn’t seem to me to be a good way for young people – and here I am including even youngish adults – to start life.
And I say this as the very proud father of a couple of sons who played pretty competitive soccer until their non-soccer lives caught up with them.