Concussions are a hot-button issue as research continues to show a link between blows to the head and damage later in life. Recent attention has focused particularly on the risks to young athletes whose brains are continually developing.
According to the Center for Disease Control, emergency room visits by adolescents for brain injuries sustained in sports and recreational activities jumped more than 60 percent from 2001 to 2009. The study found that bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer were the top culprits. The long-term effects of these head injuries are still being studied, but potential outcomes include changes in memory and reasoning, communication and language skills, and emotional well-being.
There are three things every parent should do to keep their kids safe while being active:
Make sure your child always wears a helmet when:
• riding a bike, snowmobile, scooter or all-terrain vehicle;
• playing a contact sport, such as football or ice hockey;
• roller-skating, roller-blading or riding a skateboard;
• playing baseball, or even just batting and running the bases;
• skiing or participating in other snow sports; and
• riding a horse.
Know the signs and symptoms of a concussion. You can’t see a concussion, and some signs may not show up until days or even weeks after the injury. Seek medical attention immediately if you or your child becomes aware of any of these symptoms:
• dazed or stunned appearance or clumsy movements;
• nausea or vomiting;
• headache or “pressure” in head, balance problems or dizziness;
• sensitivity to light or noise, or blurry vision;
• confusion, memory problems or trouble concentrating;
• mood, behavior, or personality changes; or
• trouble falling asleep or sleeping more than usual.
If you think your child may have a concussion, keep them out of play. Children who return to play too soon while the brain is still healing risk a greater chance of having a repeat concussion. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first — usually within a short period of time (hours, days or weeks) — can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. So don’t let your child return to play the day of injury and certainly not until a medical professional has examined him and given the OK.
We at the Kevin Dare Foundation are all too familiar with traumatic brain injury. Kevin Dare was a Penn State pole vaulter who died after hitting his head while competing at the Big Ten Championships in 2002. The nonprofit Kevin Dare Foundation was established shortly thereafter in his honor. It is our mission to bring awareness to sports safety and help young athletes who have suffered debilitating injuries, and we provide free helmets to youth in Central Pennsylvania. To request a helmet or learn more, visit kevindare.org.
Samantha Russell is executive director of the Kevin Dare Foundation. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities That Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities That Care serving the State College Area School District.