Concussion dangers center of state debate

March 29, 2011 4:52:23 PM PDT
A brain autopsy shows NFL Player Dave Duerson's concussions on the field did contribute to his depression, and suicide. Duerson requested the autopsy and brain analysis before killing himself.

As evidence mounts about the danger of concussions, the legislature could vote on a bill to protect student athletes on Wednesday.

Athletes are bigger, stronger and hit harder, making the risk of concussion higher. And brain experts say if concussions aren't treated correctly, the athlete can eventually lose the ability to think.

"We can see changes in the brain that mimic somebody with early age Alzheimer's or dementia," Methodist Neuropsychologist Dr. Summer Ott said.

The National Hockey League, one of the roughest pro-sports, is implementing new guidelines, and trainers are pulling players out of the game if they think they have a concussion.

"Watching guys if they're on the bench, kind of a little slow, a little sluggish -- those things right there are indicators, number one that we hold a guy out and that we do further evaluation," said Jody Green, the head athletic trainer for the Aeros.

"Many will complain of feeling very tired, more so than they're used to; there will be headaches, there will be dizziness, balance problems," Ott said.

To protect the brains of student athletes, Dr. Ott, who also is co-director of Methodist's new concussion center, suggests schools can give a $5 test to each athlete before the season begins, and if they're injured, give them a second test.

"It gives the brain a physical -- looks at their memory, their speed, reaction time, those sorts of cognitive domains; and then if they have an injury, we retest them on the same test and we're able to see differences between pre and post injury," she said.

This week, Ott will testify before the legislature, asking for a concussion bill to protect student athletes. She says it's not just pulling kids out of the game, it's keeping them out of class, letting their brain truly rest so that no more athletes have to pay a price -- like Duerson.

For more information on the symptoms of concussion, and the test that measures concussion symptoms, you can call the Methodist Concussion Center at 713-796-0622.

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