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November 7, 2012

State laws spotlight youth concussion awareness

Student-athletes cautioned about long-term effects

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

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State laws spotlight youth concussion awareness
Gov. Rick Snyder, seated, poses for a photo with, from left, state Rep. Tom Hooker, Detroit Lions President Tom Lewand, Tareck and Jacob Halsey from the Southwest Michigan Select Soccer Club and state Sen. John Proos and his daughter, Nora, after signing two bills into law Oct. 23 that are meant to increase concussion awareness.

LANSING — With fall sports in the midst of playoffs and winter sports warming up, Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed two bills into law to help prepare young athletes to deal with potential concussions.

Senate Bill 1122 and House Bill 5697 were signed into law Oct. 23 as Public Acts 342 and 343. Act 342 “requires the Michigan Department of Community Health to develop both educational materials and a concussion awareness program.”

Act 343 takes that up a level, requiring “all youth sports coaches, employees and volunteers (to) participate in the concussion awareness program, as well as provide the educational materials to athletes.” The act also requires coaches to immediately remove any youth athlete from a contest if the athlete is suspected to have sustained a concussion. They will not be allowed to return to action until they receive written clearance from a health professional.

“The state has been very aggressive in mandating programs statewide,” said Jim Cole, athletic director and assistant principal at Royal Oak High School. “Our trainer had a protocol. It’s very similar to the ones used at the collegiate level. It’s pretty thorough that she puts them through.”

Cole said the Oakland Activities Association and MHSAA referees also have protocols of their own to help ensure the safety of student-athletes.

“Most people don’t understand what a concussion is,” said Dr. Neal Alpiner, a pediatric concussion specialist with Beaumont Health System. “You can have a concussion and not lose consciousness. There’s just a lack of understanding that a concussion is a brain injury. You don’t have to hit something to have a concussion. The brain is more sensitive to brain injuries during teenage years.”

Football, hockey, soccer and boys lacrosse are the most common sports that concussions occur in because they are high impact, Cole said.

“We’re pretty lucky this fall,” Cole said. “Only a few and nothing major, knock on wood. We had a couple players who were held out for a few weeks. They all want to play and they know we’re going to pull them and they disguise it if they can. That’s not the way to go.”

Alpiner 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 info 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 are several misconceptions with concussions that he hopes the new laws’ educational component will help clear up.

“I think the first impact it will have is that a concussion is a serious problem and health problem. It can be dismissed and overlooked. Concussion isn’t just sport,” Alpiner said, noting that people could get concussions from falling down the stairs, or on a playground or during a car accident. “It can have long-term ramifications. It’s really not hype. There’s issues for kids who have multiple concussions.”

Alpiner said hundreds of people visit Beaumont Health System and Children’s Hospital annually, some from across the state.

“People come from all over the state to see me,” Alpiner said. “We have nice, well-developed protocols for kids.”

For more information on the laws, visit www.legislature.mi.gov.

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