Concussion awareness and prevention
Mayo Neurologists advance safe play
A sudden stop, a blow to the body or a sharp twist of the head may make an athlete feel momentarily dazed, dizzy or nauseated. Unfortunately, an athlete sometimes plays through these symptoms or returns to play shortly after a break. Yet, days and months later, the same athlete could be plagued by headaches, difficulty concentrating and mood swings: indications that the athlete experienced a brain injury or concussion.
Concussions are difficult to diagnose
"Concussions can result in a variety of different symptoms which can accumulate over the hours or days after the hit. Initially, there is a temptation to dismiss early and mild symptoms as simply the result of getting one's bell rung," says David Dodick, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and President of the American Headache Society. Most sports-related concussions are never diagnosed because athletes may not recognize or report the symptoms of concussion. "The optimal approach is a rapid assessment by a trained health care provider followed by a comprehensive evaluation by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals."
Mayo Clinic motivated to make a difference
Health professionals can better assess concussions by comparing baseline and after-injury cognitive concussion testing measures that show how the brain was working before and how it works after a concussive brain injury. This testing is mandated for professional and college athletes but not for younger athletes participating in school or club sports.
Children, adolescents and female athletes appear to be at a higher risk for concussions and may require more time to recover. That is why Mayo Clinic in Arizona was motivated to advocate for young athletes and more actively spread awareness about concussion prevention and diagnosis.
Free, baseline cognitive concussion testing
Due to the generosity of Mayo Clinic benefactors John and Mary Karalis, whose son, Ted, suffered a brain injury, Mayo Clinic in Arizona offered free, baseline cognitive concussion testing to student athletes age 12 and older. Athletes can receive vouchers from Mayo Clinic to complete a Computerized Cognitive Assessment Tool at no cost. They can then share the results with athletic trainers, coaches and the health care providers of their choice. More than 30,000 vouchers were distributed in 2011.
Stricter guidelines for play
Eliminating head checks and fighting from all levels of hockey and other guidelines for safer play could help prevent some concussions, so Mayo Clinic physicians met with officials from the National Hockey League, the American College of Sports Medicine and others to advocated stricter guidelines.
The American Academy of Neurology has recommended that not only should a certified athletic trainer be present at all sporting events and practices where athletes are at risk for concussion, but that following a concussion, an athlete should return to participation only after evaluation by a neurologist or physician with proper training. The National Basketball Association has recently adopted this guideline.
Arizona Concussion Summit
Because of a generous donation from benefactors John and Mary Karalis, Mayo Clinic hosted the first Arizona Concussion Summit in 2011. Coaches, athletic directors, trainers, medical professionals and others concerned about concussion issues attended. Topics included recognizing concussion signs and symptoms, learning about changes in brain function that occur after concussions, understanding the vulnerabilities of developing brains, ensuring the proper evaluation and management of concussed athletes, and understanding the role of baseline and after-injury testing in helping health care providers make return-to-activity decisions.
Spreading awareness to youth hockey players
Neurologists from Mayo Clinic are spreading the word to young athletes, parents, coaches and trainers about safe play and avoiding concussions. To help capture the attention of Phoenix-area youth hockey league participants, Mayo Clinic gave away more than 300 Coyotes tickets.