Local study reveals cognitive deficits in lacrosse players

OLD WESTBURY, Long Island (WABC) -- A high-tech study of the men's lacrosse team at a local college last season shows subtle declines in memory and slower cognitive reactions because of repeated hits to the head.

It's not football, but collegiate lacrosse is a contact sport. And just like football, head injuries are common.

Dr. Hallie Zwibel, with the New York Institute of Technology, was determined to know just how common.

"We chose lacrosse because we want to show this is happening in a lot of sports, not just football but lacrosse, soccer, hockey," Zwibel said.

Zwibel is the school's director of sports medicine and team physician. With the team's permission, several players wore high tech mouth guards that recorded how many hits they received and how severe they were.

What he found was that even mild head injuries add up.

"That's really the major finding is that there are some subtle deficits in cognitive abilities, memory, that can take place, even though you're not having a real concussion," Zwibel said.

Some players suffered impacts equivalent to being in a 40 mph collision.

Although most injuries heal over time, Zwibel wants to know how much is too much.

"The longer duration of time, the more and more forces that you encounter directed towards your head that seems to be linked with these long-term head injuries," Zwibel said.

Understanding the long-term impact, he says, will help make lacrosse and other collegiate sports safer. But he says it's too soon to offer advice to players and their parents.

"These repetitive forces can cause issues down the line, but we just don't know how many is too many, what age is too young, and that's why we're doing these studies to better understand that," Zwibel said.

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