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Doctors Discuss Knowing the Signs of Concussion in Young Athletes

By Adria Goins and Alex Onken, KSLA

 
Thousands of students in the Arkansas/Louisiana/Texas (and across the nation) began fall sports over the last few weeks.

However, with the new season here, comes a risk of injury. Football is the leading sport when it comes to concussions.

The signs of a concussion are headache, fatigue and nausea. Parents are advised to then bring their child to a doctor right away if suspecting a possible concussion.

“First diagnose it early and then after you diagnose it early make sure you avoid the triggers. So avoid extra screen time, over-exercising and just basically have 24 to 48 hours of cognitive physical rest,” said Dr. Kenneth Aguirre of Oschner-LSU Health Shreveport, who specializes in sports medicine.

According to Dr. Charles Webb, also with Oschner-LSU Health and a sports medicine specialist, the topic of concussions and the potential risks of football comes up often.

“I get that question a lot from parents. They want to know is it safe for my child to play high school or junior high, or even pee wee or popcorn football. and the question comes up because parents are worried about concussions. So my answer to them is if it were my child I wouldn’t let them play until they had an organized professional coach teaching them both how to hit and receive a hit.”

Young athletes are usually taught how to hit and receive a hit around junior high. Dr. Webb said parents should put their children in club soccer or flag football in contrast to popcorn or pee wee football.

“It’s much safer and you’re less likely to get hit in the head,” he said. “And you still get all the conditioning you need to play football later on in life.”

In addition, doctors say keeping children awake when they have a concussion is a common misconception. Sleep is actually very good for the healing process.
 

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What Is a Neuropsych Evaluation?

By Thomas A. Crosley, Crosley Law

 
Brain injury can deeply impact how you think, make decisions, process information, and interact with others. When someone else caused your injuries, you deserve compensation for these losses.

However, it can be hard to explain or document symptoms like memory loss, poor concentration, or impulsivity. In these cases, neuropsychological testing can help you, your medical team, and your personal injury lawyer understand the full effect of your traumatic brain injury (TBI).

What Is Neuropsychology?

The field of neuropsychology studies how our brains’ health impacts our emotions and behavior. Our brain is a remarkably complex organ, made up of nerves and tissues that help us feel, think, and perform everyday tasks. When there’s neurological dysfunction due to trauma, brain tumors, and diseases like Alzheimer’s, we may experience emotional and intellectual changes. Sometimes, these changes are subtle, like minor memory problems and mental “fogginess.” Other times, neurological issues create profound personality changes, cognitive deficits, and impaired decision-making.

Different parts of the brain serve different functions. For example, the temporal lobe helps with our short-term memory, and the frontal lobe controls our memory, decision-making, and judgment. Depending on the location of your brain injury, you may exhibit different symptoms that affect your thinking, speech, vision, memory, and interpersonal relationships.

A neuropsychological evaluation measures your emotional and cognitive abilities and compares them to the average person of your age, education, and background. An evaluation will typically consider a wide variety of factors, including:

  • Cognitive and intellectual abilities
  • Short-term and long-term memory
  • Executive functioning (your ability to make decisions and interpret information)
  • Speed of processing
  • Concentration and attention
  • Persistence and pace (your ability to finish tasks)
  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Visual-spatial skills
  • Emotional functioning
  •  
    The evaluator may also look for other possible diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Finally, the evaluator will typically assess your performance and symptom validity; this process makes a neuropsych evaluation more objective than some other cognitive and mental assessments.

    Using Neuropsychological Testing to Assess the Impact of Brain Injury: A Case Study

    A neuropsychological report can help your doctors, lawyers, and mental health providers understand the full impact of your brain injury, which allows them to build effective treatment plans and fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

    Let’s look at a real-world example of how a neuropsych examination can help a TBI survivor’s legal claims. I represented a young man with an autism spectrum disorder who was struck by a delivery driver’s car while walking home from his job at a grocery store. During the collision, my client suffered significant brain injury, but the insurance company argued that his cognitive and memory deficits were due to his preexisting autism.

    To fight back, we consulted with his medical providers and a neuropsychologist who helped document his trauma-related symptoms and limitations. After mediation, we settled my client’s TBI claim for a significant amount.

    What Should I Expect During a Neuropsych Evaluation?

    During a neuropsychological evaluation, a team of clinicians, including a trained neuropsychologist, will give you a series of tests that assess your thinking abilities, language skills, memory, mental processing, and other abilities. You can expect to do a variety of tasks, including:

  • Answering questions about your daily routine and symptoms
  • Demonstrating your skills at reading, writing, math, and problem-solving
  • Identifying images
  • Recalling information after a time
  • Drawing pictures
  • Solving puzzles
  •  
    Some tests will be oral, while some will be written, computer-based, or task-driven. The precise tests used during your neuropsychological evaluation will vary depending on your diagnosis and other factors.

    However, not all neuropsychologists focus on brain injuries. A specialist who mainly works with dementia patients or another population might offer as detailed and insightful analysis when evaluating a TBI. If you are selecting a neuropsychologist, make sure they understand and regularly work with people with brain injury.

    How Long Does Neuropsych Testing Take?

    A neuropsych evaluation will take up to eight hours to complete. Typically, you’ll be able to take breaks as needed. If you become too tired or overwhelmed, the evaluator may split the testing over several days.

    What Happens After I Complete My Evaluation?

    Once you’ve completed your testing, the neuropsychologist will review your results, medical records, and other information to create a comprehensive report that discusses your cognitive abilities and limitations. If the neuropsych evaluation was scheduled as part of your TBI care plan, the process will include treatment recommendations and referrals to specialists, like speech therapy and counseling services.

    However, if an insurance company requested your neuropsych evaluation, it might serve a different purpose. Sometimes, “independent medical examinations,” including neuropsychological testing, are used to deny or reduce the value of a TBI survivor’s legal claims.

    For example, the insurance company may argue that your performance validity or symptom validity scores suggest you’re exaggerating symptoms. Rather than recommending treatment that will help you overcome your traumatic brain injury, the report will minimize your symptoms and suggest that you’re malingering (pretending your problems are worse than they are).

    To fight back, you’ll need to work with a personal injury lawyer who can carefully assess the evaluator’s methodology and identify issues and inconsistencies in their report. If you don’t already have an attorney, it’s a good idea to consult with a BIAA Preferred Attorney who has a documented track record of success.

    How Can I Prepare for Neuropsych Testing?

    While you can’t study for a neuropsych examination, there are some simple ways you can prepare for your appointment with the neuropsychologist:

  • Request an up-to-date list of your medications and prescriptions from your pharmacist or doctor
  • Get a good night’s sleep beforehand
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Eat a healthy meal before the exam
  • Dress comfortably for your day of testing
  • Wear your glasses or hearing aids, if needed
  •  
    Remember, as long as you are honest and give a good effort, you can’t “fail” a neuropsychological assessment.

    Worried About an Upcoming Neuropsych Evaluation? Consult with a BIAA Preferred Attorney

    If the insurance company schedules a neuropsych evaluation, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced TBI lawyer. When you work with a BIAA Preferred Attorney, they can help you prepare for your examination, identify issues that may impact your legal claims, and fight back against an insurance company’s negative neuropsychological report.

    To find a TBI lawyer in your community, visit the BIAA Preferred Attorney page and click on “Narrow Your Search.” You’ll be able to filter Preferred Attorneys by their location and practice area.
     

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    ISRIB molecule—image by the Adam Frost lab at UCSF

    Drug Reverses Age-Related Mental Decline Within Days, Suggesting Lost Cognitive Ability is Not Permanent

    By Good News Network, December 27, 2020

     
    Just a few doses of an experimental drug that reboots protein production in cells can reverse age-related declines in memory and mental flexibility in mice, according to a new study by UC San Francisco scientists.

    The drug, called ISRIB, has already been shown in laboratory studies to restore memory function months after traumatic brain injury (TBI), reverse cognitive impairments in Down Syndrome, prevent noise-related hearing loss, fight certain types of prostate cancer, and even enhance cognition in healthy animals.

    In the new study, published Dec. 1 in the open-access journal eLife, researchers showed rapid restoration of youthful cognitive abilities in aged mice, accompanied by a rejuvenation of brain and immune cells that could help explain improvements in brain function—and with no side effects observed.

    “ISRIB’s extremely rapid effects show for the first time that a significant component of age-related cognitive losses may be caused by a kind of reversible physiological “blockage” rather than more permanent degradation,” said Susanna Rosi, PhD, Lewis and Ruth Cozen Chair II and professor in the departments of Neurological Surgery and of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science.

    “The data suggest that the aged brain has not permanently lost essential cognitive capacities, as was commonly assumed, but rather that these cognitive resources are still there but have been somehow blocked, trapped by a vicious cycle of cellular stress,” added Peter Walter, PhD, a professor in the UCSF Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Our work with ISRIB demonstrates a way to break that cycle and restore cognitive abilities that had become walled off over time.”

    Rebooting cellular protein production holds key to aging

    Walter has won numerous scientific awards, including the Breakthrough, Lasker and Shaw prizes, for his decades-long studies of cellular stress responses. ISRIB, discovered in 2013 in Walter’s lab, works by rebooting cells’ protein production machinery after it gets throttled by one of these stress responses—a cellular quality control mechanism called the integrated stress response (ISR; ISRIB stands for ISR InhiBitor).

    The ISR normally detects problems with protein production in a cell—a potential sign of viral infection or cancer-promoting gene mutations—and responds by putting the brakes on cell’s protein-synthesis machinery. This safety mechanism is critical for weeding out misbehaving cells, but if stuck in the ‘on’ position in a tissue like the brain, it can lead to serious problems, as cells lose the ability to perform their normal activities, according to Walter and colleagues.

    In particular, their recent animal studies have implicated chronic ISR activation in the persistent cognitive and behavioral deficits seen in patients after TBI, by showing that, in mice, brief ISRIB treatment can reboot the ISR and restore normal brain function almost overnight.

    The cognitive deficits in TBI patients are often likened to premature aging, which led Rosi and Walter to wonder if the ISR could also underlie purely age-related cognitive decline. Aging is well known to compromise cellular protein production across the body, as life’s many insults pile up and stressors like chronic inflammation wear away at cells, potentially leading to widespread activation of the ISR.

    “We’ve seen how ISRIB restores cognition in animals with traumatic brain injury, which in many ways is like a sped-up version of age-related cognitive decline,” said Rosi, who is director of neurocognitive research in the UCSF Brain and Spinal Injury Center and a member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “It may seem like a crazy idea, but asking whether the drug could reverse symptoms of aging itself was just a logical next step.”

    Signature effects of aging disappeared literally overnight

    In the new study, researchers led by Rosi lab postdoc Karen Krukowski, PhD, trained aged animals to escape from a watery maze by finding a hidden platform, a task that is typically hard for older animals to learn. But animals who received small daily doses of ISRIB during the three-day training process were able to accomplish the task as well as youthful mice—and much better than animals of the same age who didn’t receive the drug.

    The researchers then tested how long this cognitive rejuvenation lasted and whether it could generalize to other cognitive skills. Several weeks after the initial ISRIB treatment, they trained the same mice to find their way out of a maze whose exit changed daily—a test of mental flexibility for aged mice who, like humans, tend to get increasingly stuck in their ways. The mice who had received brief ISRIB treatment three weeks before still performed at youthful levels, while untreated mice continued to struggle.

    To understand how ISRIB might be improving brain function, the researchers studied the activity and anatomy of cells in the hippocampus, a brain region with a key role in learning and memory, just one day after giving animals a single dose of ISRIB. They found that common signatures of neuronal aging disappeared literally overnight: neurons’ electrical activity became more sprightly and responsive to stimulation, and cells showed more robust connectivity with cells around them while also showing an ability to form stable connections with one another usually only seen in younger mice.

    The researchers are continuing to study exactly how the ISR disrupts cognition in aging and other conditions and to understand how long ISRIB’s cognitive benefits may last. Among other puzzles raised by the new findings is the discovery that ISRIB also alters the function of the immune system’s T cells, which also are prone to age-related dysfunction. The findings suggest another path by which the drug could be improving cognition in aged animals, and could have implications for diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes that have been linked to heightened inflammation caused by an aging immune system.

    “This was very exciting to me because we know that aging has a profound and persistent effect on T cells and that these changes can affect brain function in the hippocampus,” said Rosi. “At the moment, this is just an interesting observation, but it gives us a very exciting set of biological puzzles to solve.”

    Success shows the ‘serendipity’ of basic research

    Rosi and Walter were introduced by neuroscientist Regis Kelly, PhD, executive director of the University of California’s QB3 biotech innovation hub, following Walter’s 2013 study showing that the drug seemed to instantly enhance cognitive abilities in healthy mice. To Rosi, the results from that study implied some walled-off cognitive potential in the brain that the molecule was somehow unlocking, and she wondered if this extra cognitive boost might benefit patients with neurological damage from traumatic brain injury.

    The labs joined forces to study the question in mice, and were astounded by what they found. ISRIB didn’t just make up for some of the cognitive deficits in mice with traumatic brain injury—it erased them. “This had never been seen before,” Rosi said. “The mantra in the field was that brain damage is permanent—irreversible. How could a single treatment with a small molecule make them disappear overnight?”

    Further studies demonstrated that neurons throughout the brains of animals with traumatic brain injury are thoroughly jammed up by the ISR. Using ISRIB to release those brakes lets brain cells immediately get back to their normal business. More recently, studies in animals with very mild repetitive brain injury—akin to pro athletes who experience many mild concussions over many years—showed that ISRIB could reverse increased risk-taking behavior associated with damage to self-control circuits in the frontal cortex.

    “It’s not often that you find a drug candidate that shows so much potential and promise,” Walter says, calling it “just amazing”.

    No side effects

    One might think that interfering with the ISR, a critical cellular safety mechanism, would be sure to have serious side effects, but so far in all their studies, the researchers have observed none. This is likely due to two factors. First, it takes just a few doses of ISRIB to reset unhealthy, chronic ISR activation back to a healthier state. Second, ISRIB has virtually no effect when applied to cells actively employing the ISR in its most powerful form—against an aggressive viral infection, for example.

    ISRIB has been licensed by Calico, a South San Francisco, Calif. company exploring the biology of aging, and the idea of targeting the ISR to treat disease has been picked up by many other pharmaceutical companies, Walter says.

    “It almost seems too good to be true, but with ISRIB we seem to have hit a sweet spot for manipulating the ISR with an ideal therapeutic window,” Walter said.

    Get more links to background studies from original article from UCSF News.
     

    CLICK HERE to read the original article
     


    Ayn al Asad Air Base in western Iraq after an Iranian missile attack on Jan. 8. The number of service members experiencing symptoms associated with brain injuries has since topped 100. Photo Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

     

    Brain Injuries Are Common in Battle.
    The Military Has No Reliable Test for Them.

    Traumatic brain injury is a signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the military still has no objective way of diagnosing it in the field.

    By Dave Philipps and Thomas Gibbons-Neff for nytimes.com, February 15, 2020

     
    U.S. troops at Ayn al Asad Air Base in western Iraq hunkered down in concrete bunkers last month as Iranian missile strikes rocked the runway, destroying guard towers, hangars and buildings used to fly drones.
    When the dust settled, President Trump and military officials declared that no one had been killed or wounded during the attack. That would soon change.

    A week after the blast, Defense Department officials acknowledged that 11 service members had tested positive for traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and had been evacuated to Kuwait and Germany for more screening. Two weeks after the blast, the Pentagon announced that 34 service members were experiencing symptoms associated with brain injuries, and that an additional seven had been evacuated. By the end of January the number of potential brain injuries had climbed to 50. This week it grew to 109.

    The Defense Department says the numbers are driven by an abundance of caution. It noted that 70 percent of those who tested positive for a TBI had since returned to duty. But experts in the brain injury field said the delayed response and confusion were primarily caused by a problem both the military and civilian world have struggled with for more than a decade: There is no reliable way to determine who has a brain injury and who does not.

    Top military leaders have for years called traumatic brain injury one of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; at the height of the Iraq war in 2008, they started pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into research on detection and treatment. But the military still has no objective tool for diagnosing brain injury in the field. Instead, medical personnel continue to use a paper questionnaire that relies on answers from patients — patients who may have reasons to hide or exaggerate symptoms, or who may be too shaken to answer questions accurately.

    The military has long struggled with how to address so-called invisible war wounds, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite big investments in research that have yielded advances in the laboratory, troops on the ground are still being assessed with the same blunt tools that have been in use for generations.

    The problem is not unique to the military. Civilian doctors struggle to accurately assess brain injuries, and still rely on a process that grades the severity of a head injury in part by asking patients a series of questions: Did they black out? Do they have memory problems or dizziness? Are they experiencing irritability or difficulty concentrating?

    “It’s bad, bad, bad. You would never diagnose a heart attack or even a broken bone that way,” said Dr. Jeff Bazarian a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “And yet we are doing it for an injury to the most complex organ in the body. Here’s how crazy it gets: You are relying on people to report what happened. But the part of the brain most often affected by a traumatic brain injury is memory. We get a lot of false positives and false negatives.”

    Without a good diagnosis, he said, doctors often don’t know whether a patient has a minor concussion that might require a day’s rest, or a life-threatening brain bleed, let alone potential long-term effects like depression and personality disorder.

    At Ayn al Asad, personnel used the same paper questionnaires that field medics used in remote infantry platoons in 2010. Aaron Hepps, who was a Navy corpsman in a Marines infantry company in Afghanistan at that time, said it did not work well then for lesser cases, and the injuries of many Marines may have been missed. During and after his deployment, he counted brain injuries in roughly 350 Marines — about a third of the battalion.

    After the January missile attack, Maj. Robert Hales, one of the top medical providers at the air base, said that the initial tests were “a good start,” but that it took numerous screenings and awareness among the troops to realize that repeated exposure to blast waves during the hourlong missile strikes had affected dozens.

    Traumatic brain injuries are among the most common injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in part because armor to protect from bullet and shrapnel wounds has gotten better, but they offer little protection from the shock waves of explosions. More than 350,000 brain injuries have been reported in the military since 2001.

    The concrete bunkers scattered around bases like Ain al Assad protect from flying shrapnel and debris, but the small quarters can amplify shock waves and lead to head trauma.

    The blasts on Jan. 8, one military official said, were hundreds of times more powerful than the rocket and mortar attacks regularly aimed at U.S. bases, causing at least one concrete wall to collapse atop a bunker with people inside.

    Capt. Geoff Hansen was in a Humvee at Ayn al Asad when the first missile hit, blowing open a door. Then a second missile hit.

    “That kind of blew me back in,” he said. “Blew debris in my face so I went and sat back down a little confused.”

    A tangle of factors make diagnosing head injuries in the military particularly tricky, experts say. Some troops try to hide symptoms so they can stay on duty, or avoid being perceived as weak. Others may play up or even invent symptoms that can make them eligible for the Purple Heart medal or valuable veteran’s education and medical benefits.

    And sometimes commanders suspect troops with legitimate injuries of malingering and force them to return to duty. Pentagon officials said privately this week that some of the injuries from the Jan. 8 incident had probably been exaggerated. Mr. Trump seemed to dismiss the injuries at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “I heard they had headaches,” he said. “I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries I have seen.”

    In the early years of the war in Iraq, troops with concussions were often given little medical treatment and were not eligible for the Purple Heart. It was only after clearly wounded troops began complaining of poor treatment that Congress got involved and military leaders began pressing for better diagnostic technology.

    Damir Janigro, who directed cerebrovascular research at the Cleveland Clinic for more than a decade, said relying on the questionnaire makes accurate diagnosing extremely difficult.

    “You have the problem of the cheaters, and the problem of the ones who don’t want to be counted,” he said. “But you have a third problem, which is that even if people are being completely honest, you still don’t know who is really injured.”

    In civilian emergency rooms, the uncertainty leads doctors to approve unnecessary CT scans, which can detect bleeding and other damage to the brain, but are expensive and expose patients to radiation. At the same time doctors miss other patients who may need care. In a war zone, bad calls can endanger lives, as troops are either needlessly airlifted or kept in the field when they cannot think straight.

    Mr. Janigro is at work on a possible solution. He and his team have developed a test that uses proteins found in a patient’s saliva to diagnose brain injuries. Other groups are developing a blood test.

    Both tests work on a similar principle. When the brain is hit by a blast wave or a blow to the head, brain cells are stretched and damaged. Those cells then dispose of the damaged parts, which are composed of distinctive proteins. Abnormal levels of those proteins are dumped into the bloodstream, where for several hours they can be detected in both the blood and saliva. Both tests, and another test being developed that measures electrical activity in the brain, were funded in part by federal grants, and have shown strong results in clinical trials. Researchers say they could be approved for use by the F.D.A. in the next few years.

    The saliva test being developed by Mr. Janigro will look a bit like an over-the-counter pregnancy test. Patients with suspected brain injuries would put sensors in their mouths, and within minutes get a message that says that their brain protein levels are normal, or that they should see a doctor.

    But the new generation of testing tools may fall short, said Dr. Gerald Grant, a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who frequently treated head injuries while deployed to Iraq in 2005.

    Even sophisticated devices had trouble picking up injuries from roadside bombs, he said.

    “You’d get kids coming in with blast injuries,” he said, “and they clearly had symptoms, but the CT scans would be negative.”

    He was part of an earlier effort to find a definitive blood test, which he said in an interview was “the holy grail.” But progress was slow. The grail was never found, he said, and the tests currently being developed are helpful for triaging cases, but too vague to be revolutionary.

    “Battlefield injuries are complex,” he said. “We still haven’t found the magic biomarker.”

    CLICK HERE to go to the original article
     

     

    What’s the difference between all the different head scans (X-Ray, CT, MRI, MRA, PET scan)? And what do they show in the head?

    Michael S. Tehrani, M.D.Follow Founder & CEO at MedWell Medical

     
    Ever wonder what’s the difference between all the different head scans (xray, CT, MRI, MRA, PET scan) and what they show in the head. Well wonder no more. The Dr. T easy to understand version…

    X-Ray: shows bone/skull only. Does not show the brain. Best used to detect if there are bone fractures.

    CT: a quick test. Shows brain but detail not great. Shows if any larger bleed, stroke, lesions, or masses.

    MRI: a long test. Shows brain and detail is great. Shows smaller bleeds, stroke, lesions, or masses.

    MRA:
    shows the flow of blood in the vasculature system of the brain. If there is vessel narrowing or blockage this test would show it.

    PET scan: shows how active different parts of the brain is. An active brain uses sugar as energy and pet scan detects how much sugar is being used by lighting up and turning different colors. The more sugar being used the more that area will light up and be different in colors. Cancer cells use the most sugar so cancer cells light up the most. PET scan is used to see if there are cancer cells. (Cancer cells replicate at a very fast and uncontrolled rate hence use a lot of sugar to allow that replication hence why they light up so much).

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    High school injury reports analyzed by InvestigateWest and Pamplin Media show that girls are twice as likely to get concussions as boys in Oregon. Girls in the 13U age group, pictured above, are the youngest allowed to use headers.
     

    The Concussion Gap: Head injuries in girls soccer are an ‘Unpublicized Epidemic’

    Lee van der Voo, InvestigateWest, photos by David Ball / Pamplin Media Group

     
    When it comes to concussion in sports, all eyes are on football, or so it seems. But it’s not just football that causes a high number of head injuries among young athletes.

    Another culprit? Girls soccer.

    National research has found girls are more likely to suffer a concussion than boys in any sport. In 2017, researchers at Northwestern University generated national headlines when they found concussion rates among young female soccer players were nearly as high as concussion rates for boys playing football — and roughly triple the rate of concussions in boys soccer.

    In Oregon, injury reports from public high schools analyzed by InvestigateWest and Pamplin Media Group mirrored that trend, showing soccer concussions were second to those from football between 2015 and 2017. What’s more, at the schools that included the gender of injured athletes, there were nearly twice as many reports of possible concussions for girls playing soccer than boys in the sport.

    The rate of concussions in girls soccer worries local experts like Jim Chesnutt, a doctor in sports medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, who says those injuries are not widely recognized, even as concussion rates rise for girls playing soccer.

    “In a lot of ways, it’s a growing epidemic for young girls that I think has gone unpublicized,” said Chesnutt, co-director of the Oregon Concussion Awareness and Management Program and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Traumatic Brain Injury.

    More exposure, more injury

    It’s understandable that much of the youth concussion conversation centers on football, given the physical contact that is visibly — and audibly — evident on every play, as well as the large rosters and the lengthy lists of players who are injured.

    But if you compare girls soccer with football, and only look at the high school participation and injury data, “you’re missing a gigantic part of the picture,” according to Michael Koester, a doctor of sports medicine at the Slocum Center in Eugene. He directs its sports concussion program and serves as the chair of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the National Federation of State High School Associations.

    Koester notes that high school boys play eight to 10 football games per season, and typically play other sports in the off-season.

    Girls, however, play 15 to 20 soccer games in a high school season, but when that season ends, they may play another 80-plus games throughout the winter, spring and summer with club teams, said Koester, who, like Chesnutt, is a medical adviser to the Oregon Schools Activities Association.

    “If we’re looking at injury risk by athletic exposure,” which is one practice or game, a standard in evaluating risk, Koester said, female soccer players probably are playing five if not 10 times more practices and games than football players.

    And Koester doesn’t see the trend ending.

    “The thought used to be that this was all revolving around, ‘Wow! They want to get their kid a scholarship,’ ” he said. “Now it’s kind of gotten to the point where there’s so much single-sport participation that we see kids that are specializing in sport early, just so they’ll be able to make their high school team.”

    Single-sport athletes are more prone to injury in any sport. According to a study by scientists at the University of Wisconsin, high school athletes who specialized in just one sport at an early age were twice as likely to suffer injuries to their lower extremities.

    “We see a lot of overuse injury among girls playing soccer,” Koester said. “We see a lot of ACL injury among girls playing soccer. It’s a well-known problem.”

    Aggressive play

    Another factor is the evolution of sports.

    Angella Bond is an athletic trainer for Tuality Sports Medicine and works on the sidelines with athletes at Hillsboro schools. Anecdotally, she said, all athletes push to be bigger, faster and stronger. Soccer is no exception, nor are girls.

    As athletes develop, they take bigger hits at higher speeds, and competitive games build on their momentum. As competition grows in girls soccer, the sport is trending to be more aggressive, she said.

    “Unfortunately, I think that happens with girls sports,” she said. “Arms fly a little bit more.”

    Chesnutt agreed. “I think over the years, soccer has become more physical,” he said. “And I think the physical contact and the aggressive nature of that physical contact is more associated with concussions.”

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, soccer — unlike football, ice hockey and lacrosse — is not a “collision sport.” But it is a “contact sport” because athletes “routinely make contact with each other or inanimate objects.”

    Header balls, though often singled out as a source of concussions, are not necessarily to blame.

    The force created when a soccer ball meets a head can rattle a brain, but data increasingly points to other factors when competitors vie for a ball in the air.

    According to a study by The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, while headers accounted for 27 percent of concussions, it was knocks with other players on aerial play — including head-to-head contact and arms and elbows to the head — and contact with the ground that accounted for 70 percent of those concussions in girls soccer, suggesting aggressive play is a factor in most concussions involving headers.

    Why girls?

    But why are girls more prone to concussions than boys while playing soccer? The prevailing theories focus on their weaker neck-muscle development, weaker body strength (needed to stabilize the neck and head during aerial play), and more frequent contact with the ground. A year ago, a study in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that female high school soccer players took twice as long as male players to recover.

    It’s also possible that girls don’t benefit as much from early treatment. A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that girls are five times more likely than boys to stay on the pitch and play through a head injury.

    And the soccer community has been slow to recognize the hard hits its girls are taking. Instead, soccer is at the forefront of the cultural empowerment of girls.

    Local experts concerned about concussion risk note that sports, including girls soccer, have plenty of benefits. Just being physically active is good for kids, and sports like soccer help establish lifelong fitness habits, teach team-building skills, and promote character development and assertiveness.

    “The worry is that the take-home message is that (girls soccer) is healthy and fantastic and nothing can be bad about it,” said Koester, who says an opposite negative message, equally extreme, is more often associated with boys playing football.

    Greater awareness needed

    Concussion education and awareness in girls soccer is paramount, according to local experts such as Chesnutt.

    “I think the way to decrease it is to really analyze how we can modify the amount of body contact that goes on in soccer to limit the dangerous aggressive behavior that is associated with concussion,” he said.

    Unlike youth football, a sport that’s adjusting to new information about concussions all the time, soccer has largely failed to address new information about concussions, Chesnutt said.

    Football, for example, has reduced head-to-head helmet play, limited full-contact practices and games, and zeroed in on the specialty teams with the highest concussion rates.

    “Football has really done, I think, an exceptional job of identifying some areas where there have been some definite higher incidents and some problems,” said Chesnutt, who lectures nationally about youth concussions. “As a group of coaches, leagues, parents and referees, they’ve all looked at it and come up with some solutions that have decreased concussion rates. And I think it’s time for soccer to do the same thing.”

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    New Rules to Protect Your Kid’s Noggin

    May 25, 2019, Parents Magazine

     
    Children bonk their head all the time when they’re wrestling with siblings, playing soccer, and just being clumsy-and it’s easy to worry that a bump could turn into something bigger. After all, more than 800,000 kids in the U.S. get a concussion every year. For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released specific “return to learn” and “return to play” guidelines for head injuries, based on 25 years of research. One doctor shares the big takeaways.

    ALWAYS take any injury beyond a light head bump seiously. A concussion occurs when a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or a hit to the body makes the brain bounce or twist in the skull. This creates chemical changes and can sometimes damage brain cells. “If your child complains of a headache or dizziness, is nauseous or vomiting, appears dazed, or sleeps more or less than usual, it’s time to get a doctor’s evaluation,” says Dennis Cardone, D.O., associate professor of orthopedic surgery and pediatrics and co-director of the NYU Langone Concussion Center. Even toddlers can get a concussion from a tumble, so look for changes in their behavior such as not wanting to nurse or eat or losing interest in toys.

    If diagnosed with a concussion, your child will need menlal rest, says Dr. Cardone. That means taking a break from all activities for two to three days, and after that, starting with light aerobic activity. He may need to attend school for only half the day or do little to no homework (he won’t mind this rule!). However, he shouldn’t return to any sports or strenuous activities that have a high risk of falling or contact (think: field hockey, gymnastics, climbing a tree) until he’s been cleared by his doctor, which should be within a few weeks.

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    Junior Seau, shown at his beloved Pacific Ocean in the ESPN Films “30 for 30” documentary “Seau,” which premieres Thursday. (ESPN Films)

    ESPN hits the mark with documentary ‘Seau’

    By Tom Krasovic, September 20, 2018, San Diego Union Tribune

    An aerial view of the Oceanside coast, in full sparkle and splendor below, grandly eases viewers into “Seau,” an ESPN Films documentary in the “30 for 30” series that debuts Thursday on the streaming service ESPN+.

    It’s a sunny scene, the Pacific Ocean’s turquoise waves illuminated as they roll toward the white beach. The late Junior Seau told friends he found peace paddling on these waters, deep into his life alongside the town where he’d grown up.

    Up at dawn with a yellow long-board and oar in hand, Seau had only a short walk from his beachfront home to the water.

    Yet the former Chargers linebacker, role model and local philanthropist was then also writing in a journal of bouts with depression, memory loss and perceived guilt. There were headaches, too, and nights plagued by insomnia. “Buddy,” he’d told a friend and professional soccer player who’d suffered a brain injury from heading a ball, “I’ve had a concussion since I was 15.”

    Diary entries also revealed feelings of humiliation and embarrassment over not living up to expectations of others and himself, and of feeling used by others.

    “The world has nothing for me,” Seau pens in one entry, the cursive words all too legible.

    One of Seau’s surviving adult children, after reading the grim line aloud, wonders why his father didn’t regard his family as something in this apparent world of nothing.

    Why couldn’t they have been a lifeline for him to reach out and grasp?

    “Seau,” produced and directed by Kirby Bradley, lets viewers draw their own conclusions about a complicated life that ended one May morning six years ago, at age 43, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, but not before we hear from an array of family members, friends and experts in football and brain science.

    At the end of the 90-minute film, themes of redemption and hope are raised.

    “Let’s all walk from here being better for having known Junior Seau and the impact he had on our lives,” NFL quarterback Drew Brees, a former Chargers teammate of the Hall of Fame linebacker, concludes near the film’s end.

    Former Chargers lineman Aaron Taylor notes that in death, Seau drew extraordinary attention to the link between head trauma and a degenerative brain disease, CTE, revealed in a tissue sample sent to a brain scientists at the family’s request.

    Exciting beginnings and success are a thread to the film, followed often by bitter detours or hurtful endings.

    Seau took to sports at Oceanside High with a passion that rivaled his stunning blend of size, speed and agility. If he was slamming into football ball-carriers or catching passes, scoring baskets or throwing the discus and shot, he was a “force of nature” for the green-and-white-clad Pirates, observers said.

    A flood of football scholarship offers came to the small home where Seau and his brothers slept in a tiny garage.

    Jubilation ensued when Seau chose USC, keeping him close to his parents and siblings and the tight-knit Samoan-American community in Oceanside. A similar celebration arose in 1990 when the Chargers drafted him fifth overall. “I’m a real momma’s boy,” Seau said, pulling on a blue team cap.

    Playing for his beloved “Diego,” he led the long-struggling Chargers to the playoffs in just his third season, and their first Super Bowl two years later. “Now the world is gonna know the San Diego Chargers,” he told some 70,000 celebrants in Mission Valley after the team returned from claiming the 1994 AFC title in Pittsburgh.

    The flip side?

    If Oceanside lost a game in which he played, Junior lost his lunch money. It was the price his father exacted.

    The thrill of signing with USC gave way to humiliation when a failed admittance test made him ineligible as a freshman. His father refused to talk to him in response, deeming the failure an embarrassment to the family. After a dominant junior year with USC, there would be no senior year. Making money was the next step, in no small part because he wanted to support his parents and other family members.

    The Chargers couldn’t build upon their Super Bowl season, and the team’s constant losing wore on Seau.

    When the Chargers traded him in the spring of 2003, after 13 seasons with the club, Seau was hurt that the team — Stay Unclassy, San Diego? — called not him but his agent to tell him the news. “I know that was hard on him,” said the agent, Steve Feldman.

    Gina Seau was working for the Chargers in marketing when she first met Seau early in his NFL career.

    She recalled “very kind eyes” and a “very soft voice” that almost “didn’t match the size and stature.”

    The two would marry, but erratic behavior that Gina Seau linked to numerous football-related head injuries — “My head is on fire,” he told her — led to a divorce in 2002. The two remained friends. Believing that driving off a steep coastal cliff in October 2010 wasn’t an accident, Gina pleaded with her former husband to get help.

    Here’s hoping that if there’s a “Seau II,” events yet to transpire bring more developments of redemption. Say, a cure for CTE.

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    Ann C. McKee, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, which houses the world’s largest brain bank devoted to CTE research, examines a brain earlier this month.(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

    Researchers close in on CTE diagnosis in living, one brain at a time

    By Nancy Armour, August 24, 2018, USA TODAY

    BOSTON – Submerged in chemicals in the stainless-steel bowl is the key to life and, researchers hope, death.

    It’s a human brain. That of a man who played college football in the 1950s, to be exact. His family donated his brain to get answers for themselves, but what’s found could lead to more answers about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the devastating neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions and repetitive head trauma from football and other contact sports.

    “Our main objective, our overarching goal, is to help the people who are living. To be able to diagnose this disease during life,” says Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, which houses the world’s largest brain bank devoted to CTE research.

    “If we can diagnose it, we can monitor it and test therapies to see if they’re effective in treating this disease,” says McKee, director of the CTE Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine. “It would really dramatically increase our ability to point out genetic susceptibilities for this. We’d be able to look at how much is too much in certain individuals or certain positions in certain sports.”

    As another football season begins, it inevitably leads to questions and fears about head trauma and its long-term damage. How many hits are too many? What can parents do to protect their children or players do to protect themselves? Are athletes in certain sports more susceptible?

    Most important, which athletes will develop CTE – or Parkinson’s or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) – and why?

    The answers will come from brains such as the one McKee dissected this month, when USA TODAY Sports toured the brain bank.

    The brain bank has more than 500 brains, most of them donated by former athletes or their families who suspected CTE because of mood swings, behavioral changes, depression or dementia. Of those brains, more than 360 had CTE, McKee says.

    SEARCHING FOR CLUES

    The arrival of a brain sets two teams in motion. One set of clinicians talks to the family to find out more about the donors. Did they play any sports? If so, what and for how long? When did they start? Did they experience any other kind of head trauma, say from an automobile accident, domestic violence or military service? Did they have drug or alcohol problems? How did their mental health change, and when did that occur?

    Separately, and usually without any information about the person whose brain it was, McKee and her researchers study the brain. It is cut in half, and one half is stored in a minus-80-degree freezer, so it will be available for molecular, genetic and biochemical studies.

    The other half is then photographed and sectioned. After removing the brain stem, McKee uses what looks like a bread knife to cut slices of the brain about a quarter-inch thick.


    Ann C. McKee slices the brain into segments about a quarter-inch thick as part of in-depth, time consuming research on the organ. McKee hopes the work will unlock answers to CTE. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)
     
    Simply by looking at the brain, McKee can tell a few things. The brain of this man, who was in his 80s when he died, has shrunk, noticeably smaller than it should be for a man who once played football. The folds of the brain, normally pressed tightly against one another, are loose and have gaps between them, some large enough that the tip of a finger could be inserted.

    She points to the ventricles, chambers in the middle of his brain that are filled with fluid during life. They should be small, but these are “just gigantic.”

    “As the brain shrinks, they expand. What this indicates is there’s been enormous shrinkage of the brain,” McKee says. “Those are huge.”

    The hippocampus, a section in the middle of the brain that controls memory, is small but not abnormally so for a man in his 80s. If it was, that could be an indication of Alzheimer’s. But a membrane that runs from one side of the brain to the other, normally thick like a rubber band, has shrunk. In some spots, it’s almost invisible.

    “This is looking more like frontal predominant atrophy, and that could mean CTE because Alzheimer’s almost always affects the hippocampus,” McKee says. “At this point, I always want to know, ‘What is it? Let’s look under the microscope.’ But you have to wait.”

    CTE can’t be seen by the naked eye, and it takes at least three weeks to prepare slides of the brain tissue.


     
    CTE is caused by tau, a protein in the brain released as a result of head trauma. When tau clumps together, it damages brain cells and can change the brain’s function. Though tau causes Alzheimer’s, McKee says, the tau that causes CTE looks distinctly different.

    Under a microscope, it can be seen in telltale brown spots.

    “CTE is very focal. In fact, in its early stages, it’s in the crevices. It just piles up. And that’s around blood vessels,” McKee says. “That’s very different. Alzheimer’s never does that.”

    As CTE progresses, those clusters or clumps of tau will spread, and the disease will become more severe. That’s why, in the early stages of disease, stages 1 and 2, the symptoms usually relate to behavioral changes or mood swings. In stages 3 and 4, the disease is exhibited in memory loss.

    “We think there may be more pathology in the young players than we’re appreciating just with the tau protein,” McKee says. “We think there’s maybe white matter structural changes or maybe inflammatory changes that are responsible for that loss of control, which is so difficult for the individuals.”

    ‘EVERY CASE IS A MYSTERY’

    Once the slides have been examined, the pathologists and clinicians will come together for a conference. At this point, neither knows what the other does. The clinicians detail what they’ve learned about the brain donor’s history and suggest a diagnosis. The pathologists will then say whether the brain tissue confirms it.

    “Every case is a mystery,” McKee says. “It’s not the same way you usually solve a mystery. I solve the pathology first, and then you go back and find out (the history). And then you try and put the two together.”

    Some former players and their families once were reluctant to donate their brains, but that stigma largely has disappeared. So much so that McKee said brains arrive at the Boston bank almost every day.

    Though that lengthens the time it takes to reach a definitive diagnosis, it will shorten the time before a living diagnosis can be found. In addition to the work done in her lab, McKee shares tissue samples with researchers around the world.

    “What we want to do is establish the risk, educate people, educate parents, educate players,” McKee says. “So if they’re unwilling to risk that future self, if they’re unwilling to take that risk because it’s too high for them personally, we want to give them enough data so they can make a very sound and wise decision.”

    When that day comes, it will change sports forever.

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    Traumatic brain injury causes widespread damage to neurons, leading to deficits in learning and memory. Cypin activators restore neuronal survival and function in mice, allowing for normal learning and memory. Credit: Mihir Patel/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

    Traumatic brain injury: Discovery of two molecules could lead to new drug treatments

    By Todd B. Bates, July 27, 2018, Rutgers University

    After 10 years of research, a Rutgers-led team of scientists has identified two molecules that protect nerve cells after a traumatic brain injury and could lead to new drug treatments.

    The molecules promote full recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI) in mice, according to the study published online in Neurobiology of Disease. Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death for people under 45 years old in the United States and is associated with disability, early-onset dementia, cognitive disorders, mental illness and epilepsy.

    Nearly all approaches for treating TBI focus on trying to prevent neurons, or nerve cells, from degenerating or on attempting to promote their survival, the study notes. TBI typically alters neural circuits within injured brain regions.

    “The big issue with treatment after TBI is that there are no drugs that work well on patients to restore memory, and we’re targeting reconnectivity of neural circuitry,” said Bonnie L. Firestein, senior author of the study and a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “That means we want our neurons to function properly and connect with other neurons. We want to allow people to retain their cognition and ability to remember and learn, so our angle is novel.”

    The researchers studied the protein cypin, an enzyme that breaks down guanine, which is an important building block for DNA and RNA in cells. The scientists previously showed that cypin is involved in promoting the proper shape in neurons and “keeping them happy,” Firestein said. This study found that speeding the breakdown of guanine protects neurons from injury and retains brain functioning.

    Scientists at Rutgers-New Brunswick, University of Pennsylvania, Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center Inc. and Columbia University want to develop drugs from the molecules for further studies.

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