Grant funds W. Grand concussion program
September 6, 2012
With the opening of a new school year comes another round of school sports for middle school and high school students.
For coaches, parents and teachers, the number one priority, aside from having fun, is the safety of these young athletes.
At West Grand Middle School and High School, the latest safety development takes the form of concussion management. Thanks to a $500 grant from the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation, the Middle Park Medical Center is able to allow free testing for student athletes both pre- and post-concussion.
A computer software test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is designed to help doctors assess whether an athlete is concussed, and how the recovery is progressing.
The test takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to complete, and measures symptoms, verbal and visual memory, reaction time, processing speed and more. For example, the test taker will be shown a list of words to memorize, and later he or she must select those same words from another list. Testing measures both speed and accuracy.
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For the best results, athletes should take the test before any injury occurs. This establishes a baseline, indicating the normal level of cognition and ease with which the athlete takes the test. After a head injury or suspected concussion occurs, the test is taken again, after which the doctors and medical professionals can gauge the difference between the two tests and best determine when (and if) the athlete should return to his or her sport.
Students can take the ImPACT test free of charge thanks to the grant, which is part of an initiative shared by DICK’S Sporting Goods, ImPACT, and the PACE (Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education) program.
“Our goal,” says the website, “is to provide awareness and information so that every athlete, every team and every school can be smart about concussions.”
Heather Bentler, RN and trauma coordinator at the Middle Park Medical Center in Kremmling, was instrumental in retrieving the grant. Now 300 students are covered to take the establishing baseline test, and 75 will be covered post injury.
The grant must be renewed annually, but even if by chance it is not awarded to West Grand School District next year, the free testing may continue thanks to donations from the West Grand Booster Club and Middle Park Medical Center.
“If [the grant isn’t renewed], we do have people that are willing to help us out so we don’t have to pass that fee on to the students,” said Bentler.
Concussions, even mild ones, are not to be taken lightly. Legislation passed in January 2012 now requires that coaches be educated about concussion recognition and treatment of young athletes.
The Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act came about through tragedy. A freshman linebacker at Grandview High School in Aurora, Snakenberg received an undiagnosed concussion during a game. A week later, he was hit a second time at another game and collapsed on the field. Despite being transferred to a nearby hospital, he died from his head injury.
The Act seeks to prevent concussion-related deaths by educating coaches about prevention, recognition, and treatment of head injuries, and requiring doctor-provided clearance to return to play.
Jacob Bauer, a doctor of physical therapy at Middle Park Medical Center, works closely with West Grand coaches during the athletic year. Bauer gives information and presentations whenever asked, and is present at most home games.
“Our goal is trying to do a lot of education for coaches, because the coaches are always with the athletes. I don’t go on any away trips,” said Bauer.
“Last year I went to middle school and did training with coaches there. The coaches attend seminars and have to get cleared and have to take different courses on [concussion management]. I think in general everybody is getting well educated already, but if there’s anybody new or anybody that wants or needs us to, we will participate and do a presentation or whatever’s needed.”
One of the dangers of head injuries is that athletes may not realize that they are concussed, or may not acknowledge the severity of their situation.
“You don’t need to lose consciousness to have a concussion,” said Dr. Sharon Justice of Middle Park Medical Center. “In about 80 percent of cases, that does not happen to them.”
Common procedure is to give parents of injured athletes pamphlets and other literature detailing what to look for to spot troubling symptoms. Any player hit hard enough to lose consciousness is immediately transported to the ER.
Symptoms of a concussion have three aspects, physical, cognitive and emotional, explains Justice. Each individual case presents itself differently, some athletes showing symptoms and not others, which is why baseline tests like ImPACT are so helpful in identifying the extent of each head injury.
Physical problems include headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, balance problems and skewed vision. Cognitive symptoms include slowed down thinking, difficulty remembering, trouble paying attention, and acting “foggy.”
Teachers can also aid in cognitive symptom recognition, if a student’s performance is notably different. Emotionally, concussed athletes may exhibit uncharacteristic irritability, frustration, nervousness, sadness, or impulsivity. Any symptom that lasts more than two weeks should be taken seriously and checked by a doctor. If left untreated, concussions may lead to permanent damage, learning disabilities, or even death.
Contrary to what may be assumed, concussion recovery is more difficult for younger athletes, whose brains are not fully developed.
Back to the game?
The ImPACT test gives medical professionals an idea as to when (or if) an athlete can safely return to practice or gameplay.
“That’s where the tricky part is- returning them to play,” said Justice. “Kids, they don’t want to quit, and they want to go. Most athletes are that way. Especially when they’re younger, it’s hard to make them understand.”
Even adults may not be aware of the dangers of concussions. Drew Brees is a professional NFL quarterback (previously for San Diego, currently for the New Orleans Saints), who has partnered with ImPACT and PACE to promote awareness of the test.
“I had a concussion in 2005,” reads a statement by Brees on the PACE website. “It was the first time it happened to me. I didn’t realize how hard I’d been hit. That’s what most athletes don’t understand: It’s almost impossible to diagnose yourself. Athletes just want to get back in the game.
“You need coaches or medical personnel to evaluate you and, for your own safety, not let you go back out there until you are ready. If you leave return to play decisions to the athletes, it will not happen, they will go back out there. It’s that competitive desire to be out there helping your teammates, to win. So those evaluating measures need to be in place everywhere, so you are not putting it on the athletes.”