Athletes with ADHD may be at greater risk following concussion

Written by Sharon Salt, Editor

In a preliminary study, researchers have revealed that athletes who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be at greater risk for experiencing persistent anxiety and depression after a concussion than people who do not have ADHD. The results will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference (20–22 July, IN, USA).
“These findings suggest that ADHD and concussion may have a cumulative effect on anxiety and depression beyond that of either ADHD or concussion alone,” explained study author Robert Moore (University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, USA). “Athletes with ADHD should be monitored with this in mind, as they may be more susceptible to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety following a concussion.”

The study participants included 979 NCAA Division I college athletes at the University of South Carolina. Researchers gathered information on ADHD diagnosis and any history of concussion, alongside the athletes’ scores on questionnaires measuring anxiety and depression prior to the start of their sporting seasons.

Within the study, athletes were divided into four groups: those with ADHD who also had experienced concussion; those with ADHD who had not experienced a concussion; those with concussion and no ADHD; and those with neither a history of concussion nor ADHD.

Results of the study revealed that athletes with both ADHD and concussion had significantly higher scores on the tests for anxiety and depression than any of the other groups. Moore also noted that athletes with a history of concussion were evaluated 6 or more months after the injury, indicating that the differences lasted longer than what might be expected in the weeks after the concussion.

Athletes with ADHD but no history of concussion did not show increased anxiety or depression.

The anxiety test examined how often the participants agreed with certain statements, such as “I am tense; I am worried” and “I worry too much over something that really doesn’t matter,” with answers ranging from “Almost never” to “Almost always”. The results revealed that athletes with both concussion and ADHD had average scores of 42 on the test, which ranged from 20 to 80, compared to an average score of 33 for the other three groups.

The depression test studied how often people have agreed with statements during the past week, such as “I did not feel like eating; my appetite was poor” and “I felt that everything I did was an effort,” with responses ranging from “Rarely or none of the time (less than 1 day)” to “Most or all of the time (5–7 days)”. The results established that athletes with both concussion and ADHD had average scores of 26, which ranged from 0 to 60, compared to an average score of 16 for the other three groups.

Moore determined that a limitation of the study was that it was cross-sectional, which means it looks at one point in time and does not demonstrate cause and effect. To conclude, he stated that additional research is required with multiple tests both before and after any concussions occur.


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