Do Your Grandkids Play Sports? What You Should Know about Concussions
With spring sports like baseball, softball, and soccer coming up, parents and grandparents need to be aware of why concussions are such serious injuries and how they can be treated. Concussions have traditionally been associated with high-impact sports like football, and even in this setting, knocks on the head that don’t “seem” serious have often been brushed off. However, it’s becoming more common to see young athletes of all types being pulled off the field or court for possible concussions.
“The more scientists learn about concussions or traumatic brain injury (TBI), the more adverse long-term effects they discover—including permanent neurologic disability,” says Dr. Adam Breiner, MD, who practices family medicine at The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center—a division of Breiner Whole-Body Health Center in Fairfield, Connecticut—and specializes in the treatment of neurological conditions.
“In the past, we’ve looked to experienced parents and coaches to render a preliminary diagnosis when an athlete suffers a blow to the head, but given the seriousness of untreated TBI, head injuries can’t be handled that way anymore,” he explains. “If a possible concussion is even suspected, it’s important to seek a doctor’s diagnosis.”
Given that 1 in 5 high school athletes will experience a concussion during the playing season and that the number of reported concussions is rising, parents shouldn’t worry about “overreacting.” From a caregiver’s perspective, Breiner says, it’s infinitely preferable to rule out TBI up-front than it is to retroactively treat an injury that has gone undiagnosed for weeks, months, or even years.
Here, Breiner shares six things parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches need to know about concussions so that they can protect the young people in their care:
Concussions and TBI do real damage to the brain. Concussions and TBI occur when the brain suddenly shifts within the skull—usually as the result of a sudden blow, jolt, or change of direction. A few of the athletic incidents that can result in TBI include football tackles, being hit with a baseball or softball, heading a soccer ball, or tripping and falling.
“TBI and concussions are characterized by torn nerve axons, bruising, and inflammation,” explains Breiner. “If not treated properly, this damage can continue to impede brain function, even long after the initial injury.”
That damage can have long-term effects. Because children’s brains are still growing, they are especially vulnerable to concussions. The damage caused by TBI can impair normal development. Potential long-term effects of childhood concussions include abnormal brain activity that lasts for years, memory problems, attention deficits, difficulty handling anger, language impairment, personality changes, difficulty making decisions, “foggy” thinking, and more.
“The bottom line is, a childhood concussion can adversely affect an individual’s personal and professional success throughout his lifetime,” Breiner says.