SALISBURY, Md. – Thursday night, Dr. Gerard Gioia, pediatric neuropsychologist and director of Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery & Education (SCORE), spoke with parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and players, about taking charge of the youth concussion issue.
Dozens turned out for the presentation, held in the auditorium at Parkside High school. Dr. Gioia delivered an interactive lecture, outlining action steps parents and coaches should take, as well as warning signs.
Those action steps are:
Learn how to recognize a concussion (you are looking for two things: a blow to the head or to the body that moves the head violently, and any sign indicating a change in the child's physical, cognitive, emotional function/behavior.)
Use tools to guide your recognition and response.
Learn the 12 Danger Signs of brain injury (below).
Remove the child from play if you suspect a concussion, and obtain a medical evaluation, "When in doubt, sit them out."
Monitor and record the child's symptoms at home.
Support proper treatment. After a concussion, the individual's brain should not be over-stimulated or subjected to any further risk of re-injury. The less "work" the brain has to do, especially early in recovery, the more energy it can put toward healing. During recovery, it is important to provide a careful balance between activity and rest, not allowing the symptoms to worsen.
The 12 Danger Signs of Brain Injury:
Headaches that worsen.
Very drowsy, can't be awakened.
Can't recognize people or places.
Weakness/numbness in arms/legs.
Unusual behavior change.
Less responsive than usual.
Dr. Gioia was quick to dispel some myths about youth sports and concussions. He stresses that any athlete is at an increased risk, not just football players. In fact, direct contact isn't the only way to suffer head trauma. When speaking about whiplash, he says "The brain is a soft tissue that has room to move inside the skull. If it moves fast enough, accelerates and then stops and decelerates, it will stretch and strain, and produce the same kind of injury as a direct contact."
The centerpiece of Dr. Gioia's lecture was an i-Phone app, which he developed with colleagues. It consolidates myriad tools and information into the handheld application format, and takes the user through clearly defined, step-by-step instructions, to deal with a potential head injury on the sideline. Users have the option to work with the app for an actual injury, or to work in "practice mode" to become familiar with how it works. It is available for free download by searching for "CRR" in the Apple App Store.
An avid fan of sports and the benefits of playing sports for young people, Dr. Gioia warns of overhyped media exposure about concussions, that often dwell on severe cases, rather than the more common, more ordinary examples, which are entirely treatable. "If you recognize the injury early, and you treat it right away, kids get better, and adults get better too," he says.
The culture of sports gets a lot of the blame for improper treatment of concussions. "Kids have too often been told to ‘get back in there,' and over the years, we've created a culture that values ‘pummeling the opponent,' instead of ‘excelling as an athlete,'" he adds. Dr. Gioia wants a culture that embodies the words of his colleague, John W. Gardner: "There isn't any other youth institution that equals sports as a setting in which to develop character. There just isn't. Sports are the perfect setting because character is tested all the time. It means a great deal if that time is well used." In Dr. Gioia's words, "We can reap the life-lesson benefits of sports, but we must manage the risk."
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