How Long Concussion Effects Last

A new study from researchers at the University of Washington Medical School 20150317_CDC_Concussionestablishes that even mild concussions can have effects on mental functioning and quality of live as long as five years after the injury.

The study looked at soldiers who had received mild concussions from explosions during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is one of the first studies to connect the dots from injury to longer-term outcomes and it shows that even mild concussions can lead to long-term impairment and continued decline in satisfaction with life,” said lead author Christine L. Mac Donald, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. “Most physicians believe that patients will stabilize 6-12 months post-injury, but this study challenges that, showing progression of post-concussive symptoms well after this time frame.”

It’s important to understand the length of impairment in terms of providing adequate services for veterans. That’s why NIH and DoD funded this work.

However, it’s also important to remember that civilians, athletes and First Responders suffer concussions — sometimes quite similar to what soldiers experience.

Forcing people to return to work before they are recovered can have unintended and unfortunate consequences. In fact, that was the explanation for a police shooting of an unarmed civilian in Seattle last year, discussed in an earlier post, and the deaths of high school and college football players as recently as 2016.

Arguably, the current health insurance system isn’t set up to meet the needs of people who may require care for 3-5 years as they recover from TBI. The US healthcare and health insurance system was designed long before we understood the nature of the problem and the length of recovery. The system hasn’t changed with the growth of knowledge.


  1. Mac Donald CL et al. “Early clinical predictors of 5-year outcome following concussive blast traumatic brain injury.” JAMA Neurology. May 1, 2017.
  2. Alan Neuhauser, “Sudden Death,” US News, 11 August 2016.
  3. “Brain-injury deaths in high school football players rising,” Fox News Health, 6 January 2017.

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