Fact: Sports are second only to car crashes as the leading cause of traumatic brain injury in youth. Whether a concussion is acquired through a seemingly minor bump on the head, or whether it happens after repeated collisions, like those that take place in many contact sports, the effects of concussion are serious and lasting.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a concussion?
- As defined by the American Academy of Neurology, “Concussion is a trauma-induced alteration in mental status that may or may not result in loss of consciousness.” What does that mean? Basically something happens to injure a person (trauma) and to change their mental status (how alert and aware they are), that may or may not include the person passing out, or losing consciousness.
What causes it?
- A concussion can be caused by a blow to any part of the body that causes the head to be hurt. Think of a car crash – your head was not necessarily hit, but the force of your body being suddenly pushed forward can cause your neck to fling back and forth (commonly known as whiplash). This can cause you not only to hit your head on the steering wheel, but also for your brain to hit your skull within your head. When you think of a concussion, you shouldn’t just think of a blow to the head.
- Events that can cause concussion are widely varied – anything from walking into a door hard enough to a car accident to a sports injury.
What are the short term & long term effects?
- Usually symptoms resolve quickly – but some issues can be long-lasting, especially for people who have frequent, repeated concussions, such as professional athletes, or even serious high school or college athletes. Studies have even found that the brain changes over time (check out this study about retired football players). Initially, symptoms may include difficulty paying attention, visual and/or hearing difficulties, and general confusion. Someone may not make sense when they speak, and will seem “out of it”.
- Long term effects of concussion range from behavioral changes to mood disturbances to cognitive difficulties. Often cognitive skills like attention and judgment can be affected.
What is the impact on daily life?
- More and more attention is being brought to the fact that although concussions are “invisible” injuries, they can make lasting, negative impacts on lives. Whether it is through changes in personality and mood, or whether it’s the ability to focus, concussion should be followed-up on, and taken seriously.
- Think now about how this might affect students – students often return to the classroom immediately following a concussion. Despite what we know about the effects on attention, students are expected to jump right back in to learning – yet if you can’t pay attention, how can you retain what you are being presented? Often teachers and professors do not even know about a student’s concussion, and therefore don’t know to watch for the warning signs of long-term impacts.
- Check with your primary care doctor or neurologist to learn more about whether you might be at risk for long-term impacts due to concussion.
The good news is, more and more attention is being brought to concussions and the serious long-term impact they can have.
- The media is paying more attention now to the significant risk high school athletes are at for concussions – read this NPR story about how many athletes are more apt to get a concussion at practice rather than at the actual game.
- Professional sports leagues are also taking concussion more seriously as knowledge and press increases – the NHL will be using head injury spotters to make sure to watch for signs of head trauma and potential concussion.