New Brunswick

Athletes need to be pragmatic — not secretive — about concussions, researcher says

Two Mount Allison University instructors with different types of expertise in the effects of concussions will host a discussion Saturday morning aimed at getting athletes and others to take concussions seriously.

Mount A teachers hope their research and experience can help athletes recognize dangers

Mount Allison University researchers have found that many athletes who get concussions hide their injuries because they want to keep playing. (Mount Allison University/Facebook)

Sports organizations are more careful these days to watch for concussions, but many athletes still aren't taking them seriously enough.

That's the message from Jennifer Tomes, the head of Mount Allison University's psychology department, who surveyed 100 students who'd had a previous concussion.

Tomes found half of them said they had hidden or minimized the injury so they could keep playing.

"I understand why … athletes who are so passionate about the game want to keep playing," said Tomes.

But those athletes may be in for a lot of trouble down the road, she said, if they don't get treatment and take time to recover.

Jennifer Tomes, head of Mount Allison's psychology department, says she understands why athletes want to get back in the game, but not taking time after a concussion can have dangerous consequences. (DanielStLouis)

"It can be quite, quite serious," she said.

A person who has had one concussion is at greater risk of more severe injury or even death if they get a second one.

Repeated concussions can also lead to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

This is a condition that is often seen in professional boxers and football players, said Tomes.

They develop debilitating symptoms, and autopsies on CTE patients have revealed holes in the brain from concussion damage.

Even if there are no obvious symptoms, said Tomes, there's emerging evidence that multiple concussions can have subtle effects on memory as well as cognitive and motor processes.

Ann McKee, director Boston University's centre for research into the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, discusses her study of NFL football player Aaron Hernandez's brain, in 2018. (The Associated Press/Steven Senne)

Mount A fine arts instructor Dan Steeves can attest to that. 

He got a concussion five years ago playing ball hockey and now has occasional difficulty with things such as forming sentences.

"I was a goalie and it just happened — a scrum in front of the net and a player turned quickly and his elbow caught me very hard under the chin."

Steeves said he thought he could keep playing, until he realized he couldn't even stand up without holding on to the crossbar.

He sat out for a while, recovering, but was eager to return to the ball hockey program he'd been helping run for almost 20 years.

Dan Steeves suffered a concussion playing ball hockey. He tried to return to the game but couldn't shake the symptoms. He quit the sport, but still struggles, even having difficulty forming words at times. (submitted)

"I kept trying to go back and … I might feel fine that night. And then the next day all the symptoms would come back."

Steeves said he would feel sick for several days, then well enough to play again.

"It became a cycle. And finally my medical doctor said you have to find another activity to play."

He tried other sports, including badminton, but still deals with post-concussion syndrome.

"I have instances where I'm very thick-headed and I have a lot of headaches and can be very tired, weak in the legs, that kind of thing."

Steeves and Tomes will participate in a conversation about concussions Saturday at 9 a.m. at Marshlands Inn in Sackville.

It's a free event, but reservations are preferred.  

For more information, email MountABreakfastChat@gmail.com.
 

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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