Thursday, August 18, 2011

Concussions Take a Terrible Toll on America's Young Athletes

Across the country, people have awakened to the sometimes irreversible damage of concussions, especially in high-impact professional sports. With much of the attention focused on the National Football and National Hockey leagues, Village Voice Media conducted a nationwide investigation into the consequences of concussion on youth athletes. We found the following:

• The effect of a concussion on kids can be much more devastating than on adults. Doctors say that until a person reaches his early to mid 20s, his brain is not fully developed and can't take the same level of trauma as an adult brain can.

• Postmortem analysis, the only sure way to measure the effects of concussions, shows that repeated blows to the head may be linked with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS and a number of other fatal diseases.

• An athlete who doesn't exhibit headaches, dizziness, vomiting, temporary amnesia or other outward signs of concussions still can experience changes in brain activity similar to those in a player who has been clinically diagnosed with a concussion.

• The ImPACT test, widely regarded as the go-to neurological exam to measure concussive blows, doesn't always accurately gauge a player's readiness to return to action. And you can cheat on it.

• Thus far in 2011, 20 state governments and the District of Columbia have signed concussion legislation that prohibits an athlete from returning to play until cleared by a licensed physician. To date, 28 states have concussion laws in place. (California, however, does not.)

As attorneys debate how the new concussion laws will play out, parents are struggling with a growing awareness that if they push their children to be standouts in athletics — sometimes the key to a better future — the cost might be irreversible damage.

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