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October 31, 2013

New Study Examines Effects of Concussions in Children


Concussions in sports have been in the public spotlight since earlier this year, when the NFL agreed to pay out $765 million to 4,500 former players who alleged that league owners concealed information on the negative effects of repeated head injuries. That history was the focus of a PBS FRONTLINE investigation that aired earlier this month on the links between head injuries and brain disease.

However, while plenty of data exists on the effects of concussions in adults, little research has been done about how concussions affect the brains of elementary and middle school students. Now, a new report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit, independent organization, is focusing on sports-related concussions in youth, from elementary school through adolescence.

“There’s essentially nothing known about concussions in elementary school and middle school-aged kids,” said Dr. Frederick Rivara, a member of the panel on the study. “And that’s really why there’s a need for more research in this area. It probably makes sense to everyone in the room that guidelines for college kids don’t apply to 5-year-olds.”

However, what researchers do know is that in addition to football, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer put players at a high risk for head injuries, helmet design does not necessarily reduce risk of injury and a culture of resistance makes young athletes less likely to report concussion symptoms, so they can keep playing.

All of this adds up to risk factors that doctors and researchers fear could lead to medical complications later in life.

Warm up questions
  1. What is a concussion?
  2. What are the risks and benefits from playing sports with high concussion rates like football, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer?
  3. What do we know about the long term effects of concussions on adults and children?
  4. Why is it important to understand the effects of concussions on both children and adults?
Discussion questions
  1. We learn here that it is difficult to diagnose a concussion from the sidelines. How would you advise a coach if one of his or her players received a blow to the head? What do you think about a coach saying to a player who has hit his or her head, “Shake it off and get back on the field”?*
  2. Whose responsibility is it to conduct research on concussions in young athletes?
  3. What do you predict the results would be in a research experiment where the long term effects of concussions in children were studied?
  4. Imagine you have children, would you let them play sports with high concussion rates?

*The first discussion question is from NOVA Science NOW “Brain Trauma”

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