Protect young athletes from concussions and blows to the head to avoid Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
For decades, we referred to concussions taken in contact sports as “getting your bell rung.” Boxers who showed signs of cognitive decline were called “punch drunk” or were said to be suffering from dementia pugilistica. Today, we appreciate the dangers of concussions and severe blows to the head. But are we doing enough to protect athletes, both amateur and professional?
The NFL and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
High profile and tragic cases in the NFL have brought the gravity of concussions into the public mind. Junior Seau retired in 2010 as a beloved and wealthy NFL icon. His retirement should have been long and peaceful. But Seau killed himself two years later. His family donated some of his brain tissue after his death. He, like so many other deceased NFL players, was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE.)
CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease. It is found in those individuals (such as athletes) with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In 2008, CTE made headlines. A dozen high-profile athletes, including six from the NFL, announced plans to donate their brain tissue to Boston University’s CTE Center for study after their deaths.
CTE’s effects can be devastating. The changes wrought in the brain are associated with memory loss, aggression, poor impulse control, depression, confusion and progressive dementia. Before his death, Junior Seau was depressed and pulling away from family and friends. He gambled and lost huge sums. He was not the man he had once been.
High School Athletes and Concussions
Sport is a valuable social activity that teens benefit from. Sports provide community, lessons in teamwork, a healthy competitive outlet and exercise. Contact sports, including football, hockey, and martial arts, are here to stay.
While athletes are more likely to suffer a concussion during a contact sport, athletes in everything from volleyball to soccer are at risk. (Girl and boy athletes get concussions in about equal measure, too!) So, if you have a young athlete at home, here are a few steps worth taking:
- Talk to your athlete about concussions. “Shaking it off” is not a safe or smart option when you get hit in the head.
- Talk to other team parents and the coaches. Symptoms of concussions are often vague and unspecific. It’s part of why concussions often get missed. The CDC’s Heads Up: Concussions in Youth Sports is an excellent resource for parents, athletes and coaches.
- Ask if referees are trained to spot concussions. Are the officials going to stop play if they suspect a head injury? This is a larger initiative, but it’s one that’s worth pursuing. Players in any sport want to tough it out and stay on the field. That’s why we need officials who are willing to err on the side of caution.
Sports are valuable; protecting the future of young athletes by protecting their brains, is paramount. Stay safe on the field, everyone!