Concussions Are A Serious Issue For The Future Of Hockey
Posted by Dean Holden at June 8th, 2016
by Jack Blatherwick, 18 Feb 2016
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the intimidating name of a degenerative brain disease caused by the cumulative effects of several concussions. Some can be very mild concussions, not even noticed by the trainer.
I am not a physician, nor am I versed in the field of neuro-trauma. As a former football and hockey player who was encouraged to, “Sniff the smelling salts, shake it off and play,” I know how easy it is for coaches and parents today to underestimate the potential danger from any concussion. Athletes resist being held out of competition, of course, and are easy prey for adults in sports who encourage them to tough it out and play. After all, we had our share of concussions, and the (shake it off) approach didn’t damage our brains.
Wait a minute. Maybe brains were damaged – we just didn’t know. Maybe that’s why I’m so damn forgetful that I lose my iPhone three times a day – keys twice – forget my password every time it’s needed and carefully put the salt shaker in the freezer.
We as the next generation of coaches, improved a little and told players to, “Sleep it off (with someone checking in on you) and you’ll be fine tomorrow for the championship game.” Today, there are concussion protocols, comparing your post-concussion status with a baseline, established when you were healthy. We coaches did our own test, holding up two fingers, and asking the injured player how many he could see. It was always two fingers, so even if things were a bit blurry, he answered correctly and played in the game.
We knew it was, “… just a concussion, not a broken leg.” So we have passed forward a couple very dangerous traditions: 1) It was expected that a mentally tough player should compete as soon as concussion symptoms were cleared up – or almost cleared; and 2) we felt concussions weren’t as serious as broken legs, because we couldn’t see them. Hey, I admit we weren’t very smart.
Actually, the scary fact about concussions is precisely that we can’t see them, and don’t know what the future might be. Symptoms are often hidden for weeks or months. Worse yet, symptoms of a gradually progressing CTE might not show up for decades, and they might look normal to folks who are getting older: fatigue, headaches, nausea, depression, addictions, weakness, vision abnormalities – the usual.
This is simply a schematic of the regions affected as CTE progresses over the years. Photos of actual brain damage in each stage can be viewed by paging through the article: http://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/alzrt234
CTE is diagnosed conclusively upon autopsy, meaning no one knows for sure until they die how much damage was done over time. Even the best neurologists might not know. Scientists are finding some clues, like abnormal brain proteins, but even MRI scans do not show the abnormalities. More than 95 percent of the autopsies done on football players, boxers and hockey enforcers uncovered major brain damage, advanced CTE.
I recommend studying the photos and diagrams (skip the technical language) in this peer-reviewed article: http://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/alzrt234. The photos show the brain damage at each stage of CTE (I, II, III, IV). Read about Derek Boogaard, Junior Seau, Ken Stabler and others. All parents of children in hockey or football should see the movie, “Concussion”, and the book itself is an important read.
I’ve discussed this with players who had concussions, some so minor that the immediate symptoms were easy to “shake off and play.” Weeks or months later, they found that skating, lifting a few weights or jogging resulted in nausea, weakness, headaches and vision problems.
The next time you question a trainer or doctor about your child’s symptoms, you might ask this question: “Are you sure this is not CTE advancing in the brain?” At the present time, I don’t think the question has a satisfactory answer, and the uncertainty is frustrating.
One thing is certain: We have to make our game safer, enforce the rule book word for word, and put an end to traditions that value big hits more than skills at the youth level. The good news: We can make hockey safer. Football cannot.
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