Years ago, retired players from the National Football League (NFL) complained of a high incidence of early dementia and death in the league’s ranks, but NFL officials, like those in other athletic organizations, failed to take the complaints seriously.
Recently, the NFL began to take notice when a number of former NFL players committed suicide or were found suffering from dementia in their 50s. At the same time, thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress, catapulting the issue of concussive injuries into the public consciousness.
Standard Concussion Care Protocol
The NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee is now lobbying for a standard concussion care protocol, with the data to be shared with other sports at all levels. The NCAA, college sports’ governing body, held a concussion summit that resulted in legislation requiring all of its members to implement a plan to remove from competition any athlete who displays signs of a concussion.
High school sports programs, unfortunately, lack the uniform safety requirements being adopted at the college and pro levels. Many schools either lack funding or have yet to instill in coaches and parents the awareness and knowledge of how to recognize symptoms of a concussion and the need to immediately remove an injured student from competition or practice.
Studies have shown that girls might experience different symptoms from those boys experience, and school officials need to be cognizant of these differences. Parents also need to look for signs like sudden memory issues or focus problems in their student athletes.
The main safety concern surrounding concussions is the repeated impact to the head incurred in certain sports. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy-or CTE-was discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu and is a dementia-like condition resulting from repeated blows to the head over time. Dr. Omalu’s research suggests that players suffering from CTE could have a particular gene that makes them more susceptible to the disorder.
The focus on concussions and their long-term effects is leading to changes in the culture of sports, especially of playing through injuries that include blows to the head. It is hoped that professional and amateur sports at all levels will implement standard safety requirements and have certified trainers with concussion training at events. This will bring a new level of safety to sports and minimize the risk of traumatic brain injury and dementia later in life.