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  • March 19, 2019
  • Varangis, Eleanna
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Past studies on the persistent effects of concussions on neurocognitive health have suggested that former athletes in younger and older adulthood are at risk for persistent cognitive impairment, functional neural inefficiency, and loss of structural neural integrity. However, few studies have focused on the effects of concussions on these measures in former athletes in middle-adulthood in order to gain a more complete picture of neurocognitive health in the lifespan of former athletes. The present study utilized a sample of former collegiate athletes to examine neurocognitive health in middle-adulthood via cognitive testing, a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan assessing neural connectivity during a memory binding task, and analysis of white matter integrity along tracts implicated in the neuropathology of concussive and neurodegenerative injury. Based on past research, former athletes with a history of concussions were hypothesized to perform worse on tasks involving high demands on cognitive control and memory, and to show impaired modulation of functional connectivity and compromised structural neural integrity. Results from these analyses showed few differences between athletes with and without a history of concussions: athletes with a history of concussions performed within the normal range on standard cognitive assessments, performed equivalently to athletes with no history of concussions on a task of memory binding, and showed no evidence of reduced white matter integrity. However, former football players with a history of concussions showed inefficient patterns of functional connectivity between a task-relevant and task-irrelevant network. Thus, concussion history may not be consistently associated with widespread neurocognitive dysfunction in middle-adulthood, but it may be associated with inefficient recruitment of cognitive neural networks during a challenging cognitive task. These results have implications for the long-term neurocognitive health of these former football athletes, and raise concerns about the effects of concussion history on more subtle expressions of reduced cognitive reserve throughout the aging process.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Mulligan, Neil
  • Giovanello, Kelly
  • Cohen, Jessica
  • Gates, Kathleen
  • Guskiewicz, Kevin M.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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