concussion

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Study: Higher Cognitive Risk For NFL Vets Who Start Football Under Age 12

New England Patriots helmets are seen in the team locker room at Gillette Stadium last year. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

New England Patriots helmets are seen in the team locker room at Gillette Stadium last year. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

This post originally appeared on Boston University’s Research News Website as “Football: Child’s Play, Adult Peril?”

By Barbara Moran

As the 100 million viewers tuning in to this Sunday’s Super Bowl can attest, Americans adore football. And for many, the love affair begins in childhood: Pop Warner Tiny-Mites start as young as age 5, and many adults retain warm memories and friendships from their youth football days.

But a new study from BU School of Medicine researchers points to a possible increased risk of cognitive impairment from playing youth football. The National Institutes of Health–funded study, published online in the Jan. 28 edition of the journal Neurology, finds that former National Football League players who participated in tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have memory and thinking problems as adults.

The study contradicts conventional wisdom that children’s more plastic brains might recover from injury better than those of adults, and suggests that they may actually be more vulnerable to repeated head impacts, especially if injuries occur during a critical period of growth and development.

“Sports offer huge benefits to kids, as far as work ethic, leadership and fitness, and we think kids should participate,” says study lead author Julie Stamm (MED’15), a PhD candidate in anatomy and neurobiology. “But there’s increasing evidence that children respond differently to head trauma than adults. Kids who are hitting their heads over and over during this important time of brain development may have consequences later in life.”

“This is one study, with limitations,” adds study senior author Robert Stern, a MED professor of neurology, neurosurgery and anatomy and neurobiology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s Clinical Core. “But the findings support the idea that it may not make sense to allow children—at a time when their brain is rapidly developing—to be exposed to repetitive hits to the head. If larger studies confirm this one, we may need to consider safety changes in youth sports.”

In the study, researchers reexamined data from BU’s ongoing DETECT (Diagnosing and Evaluating Traumatic Encephalopathy Using Clinical Tests) study, which aims to develop methods of diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) during life. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease often found in professional football players, boxers and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. It can currently be diagnosed only by autopsy.

For this latest study, scientists examined test scores of 42 former NFL players, with an average age of 52, all of whom had experienced memory and thinking problems for at least six months. Continue reading

Parent Dilemma: When A Kid’s Concussion Lingers On

When Eli Davis was 15, his ski popped off in the middle of a steep, bumpy slope and he went suddenly airborne, then landed hard, the back of his head slamming down against unyielding ice. That was his first concussion.

A few months later, at soccer camp, he was defending the goal when a breakaway player took a shot from just five feet away and it rocketed right into his face. He finished the game, but he remembers thinking, “Oh…That was not a normal hit.” Another concussion, a worse one.

So far, so familiar. Efforts to expand awareness about the risks of concussion have exploded in the last few years, changing youth sports that had long been more cavalier about hits to the head. Coaches and parents take courses on identifying and treating concussion. Most know to err on the side of caution with head injuries — “When in doubt, sit ’em out” — and watch for the telltale symptoms that may follow, from dizziness to headache to brain fog.

What fewer know, however, is that while most concussions clear within several days or weeks, a small minority of cases last much longer — like Eli’s.

“He looked at the two of us and said, ‘I don’t care about soccer. I care about the rest of my life.'”

– Al Davis, about his son, Eli

For months after the soccer injury, he suffered a mild headache that would not subside; grogginess and fatigue; sensitivity to light and noise; an inability to think hard that made learning impossible. He found himself stuck on the couch at home, feeling ever more “cabin sick,” when he wanted desperately to be back at school and on the soccer field.

“You can only watch so many seasons of ‘Lost,’ ” he says.

Dr. Neal McGrath, a neuropsychologist and nationally known expert on concussion, estimates very roughly that perhaps 10 to 15 percent of kids with concussions have “longer, tougher recoveries,” often when they’ve accumulated too many concussions, or their injuries have come too close together. That probably amounts to thousands of American children living through prolonged concussion recoveries each year, he says.

Now, Eli’s parents, Robin Friedman and Al Davis of Brookline, Massachusetts, are creating an online venue where those kids and their families can connect, learn from each other and from authorities like Dr. McGrath, and gain support for the long haul they may face.

Professional Web and video content creators who specialize in patient education sites, Friedman and Davis are in the midst of shooting videos like the one above and the others in this post for a site they’ll call Connect2Concussion. They’re trying to fill a void they found as parents groping their own way through post-concussion recovery and all the dilemmas it entails.

Though Eli is thriving now as a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, his parents still vividly remember how frightening and confusing his condition was in high school. They were worried at first by each day of school Eli had to miss, Friedman says, then scared by how long his symptoms lasted.

“We just didn’t get it,” she says. “With a broken bone or a sprain, you can take an X-ray and you can see it’s healed, and then you know what to do,” she says. “With concussion, they just send you home. It could really be two days or it could be two years, and everything in between, because every child is different, every injury is different and every recovery is different.”

“It gets crazy,” Davis adds, “because every day that goes by, it’s like sand going through an hourglass. You have no idea. You don’t know if he’s going to be OK on Friday, next Monday or two months from now. And what we’ve learned subsequently is that two months from now is actually a reality for people. A year from now is a reality for people. Or it could be three days and everything is good to go.”

Continue reading

Daily Rounds: Twentysomethings And Insurance; Kids And Concussions; Howard Dean On Reform; Cautions on Caritas

Returning To Parents' Insurance Raises Other Issues : NPR “Here’s what a lot of friends my age and in the same situation are focusing all their energy on: transitioning from freelance — or part-time — to full-time work with benefits. Not health insurance.”(NPR)

Phys Ed: Can Concussions in Kids Cause Problems Later in Life? – NYTimes.com “When researchers looked at the electrical activity of the students’ brains, they found that the concussed athletes showed noticeably less activity in portions of the brain associated with attention.”(ell.blogs.nytimes.com)

Howard Dean: Health Care Reform Will Succeed Without Individual Mandate “As a generation of experience in Vermont has shown, an individual mandate is not essential either to achieve near universality or to have a stable insurance market. While its true that the new federal law will expand health care coverage and make the system fairer if it contains an individual mandate, the most important changes will survive, and the bill will still achieve all of it’s major goals even without a mandate.” (Huffington Post)

Coalition urges further scrutiny of Caritas sale – The Boston Globe “In letters being sent today to Attorney General Martha Coakley and Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, the coalition, organized by consumer advocacy group Health Care for All, urged officials to review the sale of Caritas to Cerberus Capital Management in a “deliberate, transparent, and inclusive’’ manner.” (Boston Globe)

Back-To-School Sports: New Concussion Law In Practice

Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson speaks about the dangers of concussion at the State House last spring

Once when he was playing college football, Chris Nowinski got hit in the head so hard that when he opened his eyes, he couldn’t remember falling down, and the sky seemed to have turned from blue to orange.

“I didn’t understand what happened to me,” he said. “I didn’t understand it was meaningful, so I just kept playing.”

Under a new Massachusetts law just passed this summer, if Nowinski were playing today he would have been barred from getting back into the game until he had been cleared in writing by a health professional.

State officials are still working out the specific rules for the new law, a process expected to take months. But already, efforts are under way to increase concussion awareness among coaches, parents and young players. Continue reading