Maryland State School Board Focuses on Mandatory Concussion Guidelines

The Maryland State Board of Education passed emergency regulations yesterday to address the issue of concussion prevention in students at public school.

A task force will be formed and make recommendations about how head injuries are identified and when students are taken out of a game or practice when a concussion is suspected.

School board members said they are prepared for “uncomfortable conversations” about how athletes practice and the way sports are played.

Maryland passed concussion legislation in May 2011, requiring school coaches to receive training in head injuries, players to be removed from play or practice when a concussion is suspected, and to be cleared by a medical professional to make a gradual return to play.

The Baltimore Sun has more details in their report about the session.

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Just How Long Do the Effects of Adolescent Concussions Last?

An article in this week’s New York Times blog discussed the findings of a recent study of now middle-aged people who had sustained concussions in their youth.

The long-lasting effects of concussion may have been subtle to the individuals, themselves, but the results of the study spoke volumes to the scientists conducting it.

Researchers from the University of Montreal studied a group of people who’d played high school or college sports 30 years before, some of whom had sustained concussions. In the years since, they remained physically active but had stopped competing. None had complained of failing memory or other impairments more than any other average 50- to 60-year-old.

But, after being given a series of MRI scans to measure the volume of brain segments and the metabolic health of certain neurons, as well as cognitive written and verbal tests, those volunteers who had suffered concussions in their youth were found to have just a little bit more trouble recalling events, words and names more than the volunteers who’d never received a concussion.

Some of those who had been hit in the head in the decades prior were found to have slightly less volume in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning, while others had thinner cortexes, metabolic slowing or cell abnormalities.

The researchers found that the 50-year-old study participants who had been hit in the head had brains that were structurally and metabolically similar to those of uninjured 60-year-olds.

We could conclude that, even with an active lifestyle, people who have received concussions as children could end up having brain function that is older than their chronological age.

Dr. Kevin M. Guskiewicz, chairman of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggests that everyone, whether having sustained concussions or not, exercise their brain to overcome the effects of cognitive aging. “Exercise. Do puzzles. Read. Learn new things. Those are all good for your brain anyway,” he says.

A Message from Kelley – Fake Dr.’s Note

I recently read an article that made my jaw drop. It basically stated there are websites that will produce a fake doctor’s signature so an athlete will be allowed to return back to play. It really got me thinking; is the pressure in today’s society to “suck it” up and play greater than the potential risk of further injury?

I mean, this is your brain we’re talking about! I couldn’t believe students would take advantage of something like this. Then I realized the pressure to return to sports is huge.

When I first got my concussion my team would say, “we can’t wait to have you back”, and “practice isn’t the same without you”. It was killing me; I was missing so much of what I thought was a ‘crucial’ high school experience. I got to the point where I even  told the school’s Physical Trainer that I was “feeling a ton better” and expected resume regular activity within the next few weeks. In reality, I was feeling the same, if not worse.

At that point I didn’t realized the seriousness of what could have happened if I returned to play too soon. Now, being more educated on the subject, I can’t help thinking how stupid it was for wanting to go back. Maybe it was just a normal response from a normal teenager?  Maybe I just wanted to get back to normal and appear ‘super-human’, like an athlete on tv. Someone who could “tough-it-out” like a pro. I hate to think what could have happened if I had played before being cleared.  It makes me wonder what happens to athletes who play after being cleared by a fake doctor.

Concussion awareness and education is the only way for them to fully understand the impact of their choices.

Retired NFL Player Kurt Warner Puts Family First

We came across this incredible editorial written by Kurt Warner for the June 12, 2012 issue of USA Today. It blasts through stereotypes on many levels, from the notion that football players are “dumb jocks” to the perception that the game is all-important. Warner has delivered a thought-provoking essay about the issue of concussions in youth sports in a style that is nothing less than poignantly eloquent.

Kurt Warner and son, Kade. (Courtesy Brenda Warner)

Like many Americans, I am passionate about the game of football. I love the strategy, the competitiveness, the discipline and the effort required to succeed as a team. I respect the values the game teaches. But I’m acutely aware of the one aspect of the game I don’t love — the violence. Kurt Warner and son Kade.

Recently, with the shock of Junior Seau’s suicide fresh on my mind, I shared my concerns about my own boys playing football because of the risks of concussions. Some people labeled me a traitor, and others said I was sabotaging the NFL. How dare I criticize a game that gave me so much?

As a parent, I expressed my unease precisely for that reason. I love the game deeply, and love my kids even more deeply. That’s why we need to do everything in our power to make the game as safe as possible.

I’ve spent 22 years helping raise a child who has a traumatic brain injury. I understand the perils that these conditions can cause firsthand. Our son Zack, who suffered an accident as a baby, is an awesome blessing, but it moves me to watch the daily struggles he endures. For that reason alone, I hope people can understand my fear of placing any of my kids in an environment where brain trauma is a possible byproduct of the competition. My sentiments about my boys playing football are reflective of that.

Sports and life lessons

To be clear, few things bring me greater joy than watching my boys play football. They are learning some incredible life lessons and absorbing the values the sport instills. But I know the violence intrinsic to the sport. That knowledge carries as much, if not greater, importance.

I spent 12 seasons as an NFL quarterback. I suffered concussions. I was trained to be tough and play through injury. No doctor could say for sure whether I suffered lingering effects. Those concussions led me to walk away from the game I love. As my boys continue to play, I worry about them every time they get hit, just as my wife worried about me every time I got hit.

More than worrying

It isn’t enough, though, for parents to worry. We all know that injuries are part of football. We fall short as guardians if we don’t try to reduce traumatic injuries such as concussions, especially with the information we now have. If we’re going to be supportive of our kids’ passion to play, then we need to educate them about the risks as well.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is doing all he can to improve safety. There are signs of improvement through better equipment or changing what is acceptable in terms of hard hits. NFL protocol mandates that any player showing concussion-like symptoms cannot re-enter a game.

Last year, my son Kade was required by his Pop Warner team to undergo a baseline test to analyze brain function in a normal state so that if he suffers a concussion, officials have a comparison. These and other safeguards are helping players, coaches, parents and doctors to treat concussions and avoid putting someone back into a situation where more damage can be done.

For me, the benefits almost always outweighed the risks. The game helped shape me into who I am today. When I think about my own boys, especially with Father’s Day coming up, it’s sometimes hard to feel that the thrills outweigh the dangers.

Consequently, I support all improvements in player safety in hopes that the game has a long and healthy run as the greatest team sport in the world. We owe it to the generations of players to come, and as parents, we owe it to our kids to educate and protect them.

Kurt Warner is a retired quarterback, a two-time NFL MVP and an NFL Network analyst.

A message from Kelley – Am I alone?

“One of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with this past year regarding my concussion is that no one can physically see or understand the pain that goes on inside of my body. I wasn’t even sure if my parents could even fully understand that I was so desperately alone in this struggle. I didn’t have a giant neon sign over my head that read ‘concussed person here’ or a band aid with a ‘broken brain’ sign wrapped around my head to show people I was hurting. It was frustrating to feel like no one could feel my pain.

Sure, people were sympathetic, but they couldn’t really understand. I think that is one of the hardest parts about going through a concussion; the isolation of an invisible injury. My concussion had no outward signs. I wasn’t in a coma and I didn’t have a giant gash on my head. All I had was a terrible headache that limited my social and academic functions. But nobody could see inside my head to tell I had a headache. All they had was my word, and to some people – that wasn’t enough. I received comments from ‘friends’ that I was “milking it for all it was worth” or that I shouldn’t complain so much about something that was so little. I couldn’t do anything to convince people otherwise. It was difficult to deal with these attitudes from others.  What I have learned from this is that I have no control over other people and their opinions and there is no way to make them understand what I’m going through.

I can only control my own actions and how I respond to this brain injury. I will respond by helping to educate and encourage others to be compassionate and caring to those suffering with this silent, often bandage-free brain injury.”