Being smart about brains

Just as football, the patron sport of concussions, gets all geared up and ready to go, a new report on brain injuries hits the news.

Researchers looked at more than 500,000 emergency room visits for concussions in children ages 8-19. The number of kids treated for concussions more than doubled in the five years leading up to 2005, according to the study published in the journal “Pediatrics.”

Middle and elementary school athletes accounted for the increase — 40 percent of the patients were between the ages of 8 and 13, the study found.

Researchers speculate that concussions in the still-growing brains of young children may produce more severe long-term developmental and cognitive problems than a similar injury in an adult, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That’s extremely frightening, considering concussions can lead to permanent brain injury, paralysis and death, in people of any age. More damaging than death? Perhaps it means it takes less trauma to do more damage to child’s brain than an adult’s brain.

The study also compared the concussions with participation rates in five organized team sports — baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey and soccer. Over the 10-year period, participation in those sports declined by about 13 percent, but concussion emergency room visits related to the same sports rose substantially during the same time period, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The study’s lead author, Lisa Bakhos, said that researchers don’t know if the reasons behind the increase are that team sports have become more competitive or if it’s because of an increase in reporting rates, or both.

While youth sports are no doubt “more competitive” these days (as opposed to “more dangerous”), we have to believe the increase in emergency room visits is due to awareness and education among parents and coaches about concussions, a vitally important development.

Our state took the lead on this issue in May 2009, when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the Zackery Lystedt law, mandating that any student-athlete suspected of suffering a concussion has to get the approval of a medical professional before being allowed to play again.

While the focus, with reason, is often on football, all head injuries, or suspected injuries, in any sport or activity requires careful evaluation.

All athletes, coaches, parents and teachers can learn more: The video program “Recognizing Sports Concussions: Keeping Youth Athletes Safe” is available online at

University of Washington Medicine physicians from the Sports Concussion Program at Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, who helped get the Lystedt law passed, explain what to watch for and what actions coaches need to take.

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