04 August 2019

Young athletes with ADHD may need more time to recover from concussion

A study has found that athletes with ADHD had greater losses than others in verbal memory and more severe concussion symptoms one to two days after their injury.

College athletes with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be slower to recover from a concussion and may have more severe symptoms.

That's the preliminary conclusion of a study of 120 US college athletes who suffered concussions. Forty had ADHD; 80 did not. Of those with ADHD, half were taking stimulant medications for the disorder.

Greater symptom burden

All were evaluated before the season, within two days after a concussion, and again when they were cleared to play with no restrictions.

Concussion symptoms averaged 12 days for athletes with ADHD who were taking medication; 10 days for those with ADHD who were not on medication; and four days for those without ADHD.

"These results may help as we try to determine why some athletes take longer to return to play and experience greater symptom burden," said co-author R. Davis Moore, an assistant professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina.

All the athletes with ADHD had greater losses than others in verbal memory and more severe concussion symptoms one to two days after their injury, the study found.

Compared to injured athletes without ADHD, those with unmedicated ADHD had larger declines in thinking and learning skills days after their concussion and also when they returned to play.

Prolonged recovery

Researchers said athletes with ADHD who were taking stimulant medications responded more slowly at both of those times than those without ADHD on tests of visual motor speed.

The preliminary findings were to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology Sports Concussion Conference in Indianapolis. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"Athletes with ADHD should be monitored with this [slower response] in mind, as they may be more susceptible to prolonged recovery, and in general it's important to be aware of and address pre-existing health conditions in anyone at risk for concussion," Moore said in a meeting news release.

"Although, these results are intriguing, they will need to be replicated with larger studies," he said.

Image credit: iStock


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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