High school athletes can lessen the effects of concussions

High school football players in Arizona will have a little extra protection when they step on the field this season.

It’s not extra gear, just a simple test that can be taken online in less than 15 minutes.

The Computerized Cognitive Assessment Test can be taken from any computer with Internet access, providing a baseline of cognitive measurements.   The test is then repeated following a concussion, enabling doctors to put the results together with a medical evaluation and help determine the extent of the injury and when it’s safe to return to play.

And it’s free – which makes it a no-brainer, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, does not require the testing, but strongly recommends that players in any sport take the test before their seasons begin.

Arizona Senate Bill 1521 already requires coaches to remove players from further physical activity in the event of a head injury, with return to play based on an evaluation by a licensed health care provider.

Now, the new online testing adds another layer of protection for the athlete.  It’s a joint venture between the Mayo Clinic, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and Arizona State University – which makes it possible for every high school student in the state to take advantage of the opportunity without charge.

“Having a baseline assessment for each athlete will assist in a physician’s ability to identify and quantify a change in brain function, and determine when the athlete has returned to his or her baseline,” explains Dr. David Dodick, Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Only a very small percentage of high school athletes fail to recover normally from the effects of a concussion.  However, it’s critical to understand and monitor the healing process and not return the athlete to play too quickly.  Once an athlete suffers a concussion, he is as much as four times more likely to sustain a second one, and the more often it occurs, the less force is required to sustain more injury.

A concussion, which reportedly accounts for nearly 10 percent of all high school athletic injuries, can often cause confusion, blurred vision, memory loss, nausea, and even unconsciousness.  SB1521 requires schools to educate its coaches, students, and parents about the dangers of concussions.

Football is of particular concern because players can’t avoid banging helmets into one another, or against the ground.  It’s how the game is played.

In fact, it’s the National Football League that has drawn much of the attention to the problem recently and is creating programs to increase awareness in young athletes.

A study conducted in 2000 on more than 1,000 former players found that more than 60 percent had suffered at least one concussion in their careers, and 26 percent had three or more.

More recently, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School began examining brain tissue from former NFL players who had died and documented for the first time the excessive brain damage these professional players had sustained during their careers.

Closer to home, Arizona State lost its starting quarterback from last season when Steven Threet decided to forego his senior year and ‘retire’ from the game after suffering his fourth concussion.  His lengthy recovery time from the last ding kept him out of the final two games of the season.

The test is simple, involving a brief questionnaire.  The answers will be used later to compare against responses following a concussion, rating things like the level of headache, neck pain, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and other physical feelings.  Each is rated on a scale of 0 (none) to 6 (severe).

This standard assessment can be used by coaches and medical personnel right on the sideline, whenever an athlete suffers a blow to the head.

Check it out at: www.mayoclinic.org/concussion-testing. Take the test, and then pass the word to a teammate.