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April 9, 2013

State launches concussion awareness website

Dismissed impact-related headaches can compound into larger problems

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

LANSING — The battle to increase concussion awareness is on.

The Michigan Department of Community Health was charged with developing “both educational materials and a concussion awareness program” in accordance with a pair of laws passed Oct. 23, 2012. The programs will include concussion education training for youth coaches, employees and volunteers, as well.

With the new laws set to go into full effect June 30, the MDCH launched a website — www.michigan.gov/sportsconcussion — April 3 that includes educational resources and online training courses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Head’s Up program.

“Concussions are a very serious injury that can change a young athlete’s life forever,” said MDCH Director James K. Haveman in a release. “With more awareness about the signs, symptoms and consequences of concussions, and prompt removal from play when a concussion is suspected, this law will help to preserve future health and academic performance of student athletes.”

According to the CDC, U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreation-related concussions among children and adolescents each year. Dr. Sanford Vieder, medical director of Botsford Hospital’s Emergency & Trauma Center in Farmington Hills and chairman of the Emergency Medicine Department, said the new statewide education program is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a start,” Vieder said. “It’s got a lot of good resources. The key is going to be information dissemination; we’ve got to get the word out. We have to make sure they have this information and know what to do with it.

“Parents need to understand that the symptoms can be very, very subtle, but there’s still a need for attention. Most people think that in order to have a concussion, that you have to be knocked unconscious, and that’s not accurate. If the headache is persistent and it doesn’t go away with a usual dose of Tylenol or Motrin, that could be a symptom.”

Vieder said Botsford sees a few concussion patients per week, with a noticeable increase during high school football season.

“We’re seeing more athletes, in particular. We’ve always seen car injuries and falls,” Vieder said. “A lot of it has to do with the NFL, as well. There’s a lot of research going on behind the scenes. If you think back to when you were in your teenage years, you think you’re invincible and can take a bad hit.”

The new state law requires youth athletes to be pulled out of competition for the remainder of the game if a concussion is suspected, and then to get a doctor’s note before being allowed to again participatel; Vieder thinks that will help cut down on compounding injuries on top of unhealed concussions.

“I think that’ll make a tremendous difference,” Vieder said. “I think that having physicians that have to sign off on it is critical. I think this is just kind of the first stop so we don’t get players in with several cumulative injuries. There’s a tremendous cost associated with these brain injuries.”

With long-term brain damage sometimes resulting in millions of dollars in health care costs, Vieder said current studies being done by the NFL, in which sensors in helmets are measuring the cumulative impact of taking hits, could result in changes to the game. Similar to how baseball pitchers are limited to a certain number of pitches or innings per game or season, football players could see a similar hits-per-game meter limitation in the future.

“I think the biggest thing is we’re learning more about it,” Vieder said. “The science behind traumatic brain injury is fairly new.”

Although football accounts for the most concussions, other high-impact sports, like boxing, soccer, hockey and lacrosse, also contribute to a fair amount of concussion cases.

When the law was adopted in October, Dr. Neal Alpiner, a pediatric concussion specialist with Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, said the longer a concussion goes untreated, the more problems it can cause. In addition to physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea, he said emotional and academic changes may occur. Depression, anger, irritability and difficulty reading or retaining information are other possible symptoms.

“The longer you wait to get it looked at, the longer the recovery period,” Alpiner said. “These other categories can show up a week, two weeks down the line.

“There’s just a lack of understanding that a concussion is a brain injury. It can have long-term ramifications. It’s really not hype. There’s issues for kids who have multiple concussions.”

For more information, visit the new state resource website at www.michigan.gov/sportsconcussion.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.