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Preventing concussions gets $7.5M boost in Calgary

Calgary researchers are hoping to contribute to better health outcomes for children across Canada by focusing on preventing brain injuries and concussions in youth hockey. They are taking part in a series of new research projects estimated to cost $7.5 million.

Funding includes major U of C projects looking to prevent sport-related concussions in youth hockey

Former NHL player Jamie Macoun, who took part in the $7.5 million announcement of new projects to prevent concussions across Canada, skates with a youth hockey team in Calgary. (CBC)

A new partnership will allow 19 research projects to focus on preventing, diagnosing and treating concussions — five of which will focus on children and youth, the federal government announced today in Calgary.

For hockey players, concussion is something that we worry about a lot and discuss in the dressing room.- former NHL player Jamie Macoun

Roughly $4.3 million of the funding comes from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) through federal funding while $3.2 million comes from its partners for total investment of $7.5 million. 

Health Minister Rona Ambrose was joined by former NHL player Jamie Macoun at a youth hockey practice to herald the news.

"Injuries are the No. 1 cause of death for Canadians aged one to 44," said Ambrose in a release.

"It is clear that acting to prevent injuries will make a difference when most injuries are predictable and preventable. Whether it's a hockey concussion, a senior's fall or violence in the home, injuries take a huge emotional toll on families and communities." 

Ambrose said the research should also assist health-care professionals to provide the best care to those who sustain these types of injuries.

Two projects at the University of Calgary will get roughly $2.4 million of the new funding.

One project hopes to tackle important issues around diagnosis and treatment of concussions through a five-year study of youth aged 11 to 17 playing hockey. The other project looks to develop better treatment of post-concussion syndrome (PCS) in children while examining the effect of melatonin on the symptoms.    

"Preventing and treating concussion and brain injury is a research priority under the University of Calgary's Brain and Mental Health initiative," said Dr. Samuel Weiss, director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and leader of the University's Brain and Mental Health Strategic Research Theme, in a release.

"Our researchers are building on their respective expertise and collaborating across faculties to advance knowledge in the prediction, prevention and early intervention of concussion in children and youth. This funding partnership enables important research that will contribute to better health outcomes for children across Canada."

Research necessary, says Brian Burke

The overall goal is to produce new techniques to prevent, diagnose, treat and manage concussions, which will help improve the recovery and long-term health of those who suffer these serious injuries.

"For hockey players, concussion is something that we worry about a lot and discuss in the dressing room. We just don't know how much damage is done by these injuries and what kind of lasting effects we will be dealing with later in life," said Macoun, a former Calgary Flames player.

"The first few years you got out of hockey you would talk to your friends you played hockey with in the NHL and you'd talk about your knee injury or your hip replacement at an early age.  And now unfortunately, in the last 10 years, I've noticed a big difference where people are worried about their health. They're worried about Alzheimer's, they're worried about dementia." 

The two-time Stanley Cup champion took many hard hits during his lengthy career, resulting in several concussions.    

"Back in the day, the knowledge was different," he said. "It was almost a badge of honour to get run over, and you'd be bleeding out the ear or the nose, and then go out and play the very next shift."

Researchers say past work lead to the ban on checking for peewee level players here in Alberta — a move praised by Calgary Flames executive Brian Burke.

"This notion that we've got to better assess, diagnose and treat injuries at youth hockey levels, there's no question it's valuable," he said. 

Burke says there will always be contact in hockey and that is why the research is necessary.

  • Watch the video below for more from Burke on concussions.

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