Living in Oklahoma, American football is big here. From the little guys who play flag to the middle schoolers who play tackle to the colleges in the Big 12, we are a football state. As we go into the beginning of football season, head injuries and concussions have been mentioned often in the press lately. It certainly has my attention. I love watching football, but am leery of having my child actually participate in it. It is one thing when the adults tackle each other, but something else entirely when they are children whose brains are still developing. Given I have several years to
worry think about it since he is only 16 months, but hey I am a planner.
We have seen several research studies linking repeated concussions and head trauma to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Last summer they also found that repeated head trauma can mimic Lou Gehrig’s disease. We all know that any head trauma can have lasting effects but repeated head trauma appears to have cumulative effects. So how do we keep our kids safe? There are lots of precautions coaches and parents can take from teaching children how to tackle safely to ensuring their helmet is fitted properly. But what happens if your child suffers a head injury on the field? The Centers for Disease Control have published a guide to help coaches identify if a child has a concussion. Sometimes it is pretty obvious, but other times the symptoms can be more subtle and the tough part about a printed guide is it is subjective by nature. A coach may look to that guide to help him question his player about how he is feeling. Coaches naturally want to put their players back in if they are okay and players don’t want to get benched just because of a hard hit. So sometimes the injury may be minimized by the players themselves so they can return to the game.
To help make it easier to determine if someone has suffered a head injury, a Wichita State doctor has helped develop an app for the iPhone. A good way to check for a concussion is to measure a persons balance, but the $15,000 machine isn’t available to high school teams. The app combines a quick three minute balance test with memory tests. The key here is that the balance portion of the test needs to have a baseline so has to be conducted before the injury as well as after the injury to compare the results. Combined with the above mentioned coaches guide, safety equipment, and tackle teaching methods, this app appears to be another weapon in the arsenal to combat head injury. The best part, in my mind, is that it will give coaches something more definitive to go on rather than just player’s description of how they feel.