EVEN mild traumatic brain injury may cause thinking and memory problems, according to new research by North-East academics.

The study, carried out by Newcastle University and published in the American journal Neurology, saw 44 people with a mild traumatic brain injury and nine people with a moderate traumatic brain injury compared to 33 people with no brain injury.

The patients, who had all been treated by the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, had suffered various accidents, including falling from bicycles with no helmet, falling from ladders doing jobs around the home, slipping and falling while just going about their daily life, being involved in motor vehicle accidents or being assaulted.

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They needed hospital attention but were treated and discharged either on the day of their injury or following a few days of observation and treatment in hospital.

All participants were tested on their thinking and memory skills. At the same time, they had a type of MRI scan that is better at detecting damage to brain cells.

The people with brain injuries had their scans an average of six days after they suffered the injury. A year later, 23 of those with injuries had another scan and took the cognitive tests again.

Compared to the people with no brain injury, those with injuries had damage to white brain matter which consisted of disruption to nerve axons, the parts of nerve cells that allow brain cells to transmit messages to each other.

The study found that patient scores on the verbal letter fluency task, a test of thinking and memory skills, were 25 per cent lower than in the healthy people. This was strongly related to the imaging measures of white matter damage.

One year after the injury, the scores on thinking and memory tests were the same for people with brain injuries and those with no injuries, but there were still areas of brain damage in people with injuries.

Study author Professor Andrew Blamire, of Newcastle University, said: “These results show that thinking skills were recovering over time. The areas of brain damage were not as widespread across the brain as previously, which could indicate that the brain was compensating for the injuries.”