In the News: Concussion Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve done a concussion post. So many good stories have been popping up lately about concussions, and I want to make sure that they don’t go unnoticed. Truly it does my heart good to see more and more laypeople and researchers and prominent individuals gaining awareness. Even the so-called “mild Traumatic Brain Injury” is far from lighthearted stuff.

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Connors have message for families: Take concussions seriously

I’m so happy to see coaches becoming seriously aware of the importance of taking brain injury seriously. Utah basket ball associate head coach Tommy Connor’s son, Jake, suffered his 9th lifetime concussion, which had him recovering for 5 months. After finally revealing how much he had been struggling since the last injury, Jake underwent a concussion protocol, under which he tested well. This reveals the ugly truth about “concussion”: the effects can be long-lasting and long-ranging and are not easily diagnosable. Tests aren’t sensitive enough, but the damage is real.

Statistically, prolonged effects of concussion are more rare. But I don’t think they’re actually that uncommon. Concussion builds upon concussion. Damage to the brain’s white matter persists long after a person’s symptoms have disappeared, so it’s not surprising that one blow can be the brain’s undoing after multiple earlier blows.

“Take anything that happens to a kid’s head seriously and follow up. The longer I do this, the better I’m becoming at following up with things,” Jameson continued. “Even when someone says they’re feeling good and they’re better. We’re trying to do more and more follow up.”

Data is still being gathered, he said, because the brain is such a complex thing.

“Do not neglect or overlook even the littlest of signs or symptoms,” said Tommy, who pointed out that it doesn’t have to be a violent hit that puts things in motion. It could be something that can worsen over a 24- to 48-hour period, so doctors recommend that a person be watched.

The Ute coach advises folks to use much more caution than perhaps they would. There is no date for recovery; it’s when things are back to normal.

And there are decisions to be made along the way. In Tommy’s case, he was advised by Eastvold in a meeting with his parents to think things through very careful when it came to resuming his basketball career. Another head injury would be magnified because of his past history.

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‘Like there is a different person inside’: After brain injury, Cape Elizabeth author helps others cope

This is one difficult example of a mild injury permanently altering someone’s cognition of sense of self. I experienced a similar change in how I experienced myself that only really started to wear off after I hit year two. I am feeling much more like myself, but there is still a sensation of a brick wall being dismantled brick by brick.

I know that neuroplasticity is real, but the hard truth about brain injury is that people might not ever experience themselves the same way again. I have been so fortunate in my recovery that I have been able to rest and restore myself before returning to the workplace. My hope continues that however long the road, I will recover fully.

But, oh, can I relate to U.S. soccer goalie Briana Scurry’s experience. I recently became aware of her concussion advocacy work. Check out her website for many more resources to explore.

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The Traumatized Brain: Investigating injury, recovery, and repair

This is essential reading for understanding brain injury.

CONCUSSIONS, the most common brain injuries, occur when a rapid rotational acceleration to the head—such as a hit or fall—causes a temporary loss of brain function. It doesn’t cause detectable structural damage, but its symptoms can range from headaches to loss of consciousness to seizures. New research has raised puzzling questions about these incidents.

Concussions related to sports are common among children and teenagers, and probably more widespread than records indicate. Studies have found that one-third of athletes don’t recognize their symptoms as concussion (most concussions don’t involve a loss of consciousness) and many athletes ignore or avoid reporting any symptoms they may have (see “Hits, Heads, Helmets,” January-February 2010). Nevertheless, awareness has grown: “There’s much more understanding of the severity of the injury,” says neurosurgeon and associate professor of surgery Mark Proctor, who leads the Brain Injury Center at Children’s Hospital.

Yet “concussion” is still frequently used to mean a mildly traumatic brain injury, and barely a decade ago, says pediatrician William Meehan, director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at Children’s Hospital, the idea that concussion could cause more than temporary problems was controversial. “People thought you just got better,” he explains—and because most concussions do resolve quickly, people who complained of long-term symptoms were sometimes dismissed as malingerers.

But studies of athletes who have experienced concussions show a measurable drop in cognitive function after a single incident. Most subjects recover, but as they sustain additional injuries, the declines become more pronounced, and even permanent. Meehan and colleagues decided to explore the issue in animal studies (“Mice don’t malinger,” he says). By developing a system for inducing a concussion in anesthetized mice, the scientists have been able to study the injury’s effects in much more detail than could be done in humans. The research affirms what has been seen in athletes: even when concussions don’t cause visible structural damage to the brain or individual brain cells, they can still impair performance on memory tests.

The model has also facilitated study of the effects of multiple concussions—a common experience for athletes. The investigators find that repeat injuries cause cumulative impairments, particularly if there’s little recovery time between episodes.

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ID cards launched for survivors of brain injuries with the support of Prince Harry

Prince Harry continues to be my hero. Along with his openness about his struggles with mental health and his support of mental health awareness, he has backed an initiative to create ID cards identifying people with brain injuries. If I had something like this, especially in the early days of my recovery, it would make life so much easier.

Although my gait was never so off-kilter that anyone would mistake me for inebriated, I had trouble not bumping into things, as well as a host of cognitive and visual and sensory-processing problems that made being in public almost impossible and forced me to withdraw from my law program after orientation. It would have been so lovely to hand over a card that legitimized what I was experiencing. High marks for Harry.

The card is part of the charity’s Justice Project, which aims to raise awareness of brain injury within the criminal justice system, and ensure survivors are identified at the earliest possible opportunity to ensure they receive appropriate support.

The ID card has the additional benefit of breaking down social exclusion, with holders having renewed confidence in the knowledge they can easily explain their support needs should they require assistance in everyday situations.

Charles Southam, 28, from Bedlington, who receives support from local group Headway Tyneside, is grateful for the idea.

He said: “Brain injury is often a hidden disability and people struggle to understand that service users have anything wrong with them because they look so ‘normal’.

“Brain injury survivors can struggle in particular social situations and may appear rude or drunk. People may feel anxious and struggle to explain their situation, and so by having an identify card with you, it allows you to show people to help them understand and avoid any difficulties.”

Thanks for hanging in there with me for another concussion post. I hope you’ll find these resources enlightening and that they’ll motivate you to be a head-injury advocate. Brain injury is often an invisible disability that needs extra understanding and extra care. Hug a brain injury survivor today!

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