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Concussions have become the most talked about problem in the sports world.
From youth leagues to the the NFL, players, parents, coaches, trainers and doctors are trying to get a grasp on how to diagnose, treat and prevent brain injuries caused by physical contact.
"Concussions are invisible injuries," said Karen Laugel, MD at PediCare in Shelton. "It's not a fracture or something you can actually see. You can't see it on a CAT Scan or MRI because it's really a metabolic problem, it's shaking the brain and then what happens metabolically after that injury occurs."
Laugel is an integral part of the "Head Zone" concussion care program in Shelton. She says that recognizing and diagnosing concussions are a big problem in youth and high school sports.
"The whole field is still evolving," said Laugel. "There are a lot of doctors, emergency departments, and neurologists, who are still back with a grading system of concussions from the 1980s. What's changed in the last 10 years is how concussions are evaluated and knowing when to let a kid go back into play."
To help athletes, parents and coaches determine when it's safe to return from a concussion, Laugel and her staff have created a program that includes education, pre-concussion screening, and injury prevention. A computerized baseline test called "imPACT" is used to measure a person's memory and speed.
"It's a neuro-cognitive test that involves six different parts," she said. "It averages out your hand-eye coordination, your reaction time, and the two parts of your memory. From those scores, we can tell whether somebody has recovered from concussive symptoms 93 percent of the time. This is a good, objective way to measure invisible injury."
With the pressure to compete and win, it can sometimes be difficult for parents and coaches to be objective when it comes to evaluating a player who has received a blow to the head. Becky Snow, program director of Head Zone, recalled an incident where a college basketball player recently fell on her head and wasn't given a concussion test. She was cleared to play and and put back into the game immediately.
"It can become an ethical dilemma and shouldn't be, "said Snow. "Coaches feel the pressure to win and sometimes don't do what's in the best interest of the player. Their job might rely on the fact that they need to win. But it can be really dangerous down the road if the player returns to soon."
Professional athletes like Syndey Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jason Bay experienced prolong bouts of post-concussion syndrome which included dizziness and nausea. Former NFL players Andre Waters and Dave Duerson committed suicide after suffering mental health problems attributed to repeated blows to the head and multiple concussions.
"Players need to know when they should come out after getting hit in the head," Laugel said. "We need to have coaches say, 'If you get dinged, I want you to come out.' Not to shrug it off and decide to keep them in the game because they're the most valuable player. There has to be a culture change because we all know the problems down the line are worrisome".