Medical experts advise concussion evaluations for all athletes

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The NFL, NHL, NCAA and MLB are all taking concussions seriously and the American Academy of Neurology is following suit with a new set of guidelines announced yesterday that call for athletes of all ages suspected of suffering a concussion to be evaluated by a specialist before returning to play. In addition, the academy wants every sports event to have a certified athletic trainer present, including youth sports for which such trainers are rarely used but are considered crucial.

It has been shown that repeated concussions may have long-term consequences such as dementia, which can mimic the intellectual deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease, and Dr. Mark Halstead of Washington University reminds parents and athletes that concussions “need to be treated as if they are a big deal. The brain is pretty important.”

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees and suggests that brain trauma seems to be additive, meaning traumatic damage adds up over the years. That’s why these new guidelines are so important: “If an athlete has head trauma and experiences disorientation, memory loss, or a change in consciousness, they should be cleared by an expert in sports medicine or neurology before being allowed to return to play.”

These rules need to be stringently enforced, emphasizes Dr. Ross. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen football players get taken off the field after getting tackled, obviously dazed, only to return to the field five minutes later and continue playing. They don’t understand — and neither do their coaches — that they’re putting their long-term health at risk by doing this; players who have a history of sustaining the most concussions have a relatively high risk of subsequently developing diminished brain function, such as dementia. Many pro and college sports organizations are already enforcing the Academy’s rules, but it has not yet trickled down to the lower grades where it’s equally important.”

Fortunately, Washington state enacted a law passed in other states as well that requires all athletes younger than 18 to receive clearance from a licensed health care provider (not necessarily a physician) before returning to the sport.