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Will Your Teen Report Symptoms of Concussion?

In a study performed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and published earlier this month, over 90% of teenagers studied showed that they understood the symptoms of a concussion, but only 54% of them indicated they would “always or sometimes report symptoms of a concussion to their coach.”

It is a finding that should stop every parent in his or her tracks.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of physical exercise in brain health; it is an incredibly powerful brain booster. Exercise is especially important for children and young people, who are forming health habits – for better or for worse – that will have lifelong implications. In our society sports are the go-to avenue for getting our children moving. If you’re a parent, the decisions you make about what sports your child will play can be influenced by many factors, like the sports you played while growing up or the team that your community loves. But your child’s brain should be the first and foremost consideration, hands down.

When it comes to brain safety, not all sports are made equal – a reality to which I can attest firsthand. After spending years immersed in the study of brain SPECT scans and real-life experiences of 150 active and retired NFL players, I can categorically suggest that any sport with high risk of head trauma is not a source of brain-healthy exercise.

Combine high risk of head trauma and the reluctance a teenager might feel to be seen as weak, and you have a losing combination. If the teenager doesn’t report his or her symptoms and continues playing, there is an increased risk of a second trauma occurring before the first trauma heals. This is an especially dangerous scenario often referred to as second impact syndrome, which can lead to permanent disability and even death.

The story of Zackery Lystedt has brought national attention to the issue of concussions in youth sports. As an eighth grader in 2006, Zackery suffered a head injury during a football game, but was returned to the field to complete the game. Before the game was over, Zackery had collapsed. It took emergency brain surgeries to save his life and months of rehabilitation before he even spoke again. Today he is still working on walking and so many other simple functions that we take for granted. Efforts by Zackery’s family have seen laws passed in nearly all 50 states, which require teams to educate players and parents on concussion symptoms, remove a player from play at the time of head trauma and require the player to get approval from a licensed medical professional before he or she can return to play.

I applaud lawmakers for taking action on this issue; I applaud Zackery’s parents for looking out for the safety and well-being of other children; and I applaud Zackery for his unrelenting determination to recover. As I learned in my study of the brains of NFL players, reversal of brain damage is possible in considerable measure, but far better is to avoid this kind of trauma in the first place… so teenagers don’t have to choose between saving face and saving their brains.

Parents, be encouraged! There are many sports that are great for the brain, including rowing, track and field, golf, tennis and (my personal favorite for brain health) table tennis, to name a few.

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