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Concussion amoung school-age kids getting more press

Posted Sep 01 2010 12:00am


A few days ago, Google News had reports about updated numbers on E.R. visits among kids due to concussions. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I was really busy at work, so I didn’t get a chance to read much. And then I got busy at home, so again I missed the window. Looking at Google News, I’m not seeing this anymore, so I looked up “ concussion ” results for the past week.

Sports-Related Concussions on the Rise in Kids on WebMD heads the list, followed by other articles in major mainstream news sources, like the Wall Street Journa l and Business Week . This is good news. When major news outlets which are highly trusted sources for information for people in power are talking about an issue, it’s bound to get more attention than when average folks (like me) are tap-tap-tapping on our drums.

The Business Week article says:

The number of concussions suffered by school-age children appears to be rising even as participation in certain organized team sports declines, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The study, by researchers at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Brown University, both in Providence, R.I., is the first national look at concussions in school-age kids, who may be more vulnerable to long-term complications from such head injuries than adults.

The study looked at more than 500,000 emergency room visits for concussions in children ages 8-to-19 from 2001 to 2005 with a focus on concussions caused by sports injuries.

Of the approximately 502,000 emergency room visits for concussions, more than 252,000 were sports-related, which included individual sports like bicycling and snow-skiing as well as team sports.

Children ages 8-to-13 had a higher rate of sports-related concussions at 58% than children ages 14-to-19.

The study’s lead author, Lisa Bakhos, who is now a pediatric emergency room doctor at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., said that while many studies have been conducted on the impact of concussions among high-school, college and professional athletes, little is known about sports-related concussions in school-age children.

Woo hoo! That is to say, hooray that they’re paying attention to this issue. The fact that they’re stating openly that “little is known about sports-related concussions in school-age children” tells me that doors may (eventually) be opening to funding for this sort of thing. It’s one thing, to raise awareness in the scientific community, but when the business leaders of the world are alerted to issues that need to be addressed, I suspect there’s a little more chance that the money to do the necessary research will be forthcoming.

Business leaders like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been pitching in mucho schekels for research and humanitarian causes, so there’s precedent there. Not to get anybody’s hopes up, but it’s still a great sign that the business world is talking about this issue.

It’s interesting that this is coming to light in the mainstream press, just about the time when I’m plucking up the courage to look back into my own concussive childhood to reconstruct what it was like. Dealing with the world after having sustained multiple concussions by the time I was eight wasn’t easy. The effects lasted into my teen years, and beyond. But it’s hard to separate out what difficulties were due to my early childhood injuries, and which were due to my later injuries. Having sustained mild traumatic brain injuries on a regular basis (every few years), starting around age 4, kind of muddles the picture. And it probably makes me a lousy candidate for scientific enquiry. What’s the control? How can you gauge/compare/contrast my experience with anything or anyone? I’m not unique, but I’m also not run-of-the-mill, which would probably make most neuroscientists absolutely nuts.

Bottom line is, my whole growing up experience was pretty rotten, in many ways, due in no small part to the influence of my TBIs. It’s one of those things that I generally prefer not to talk about. My spouse sometimes comments/complains that my childhood is a big blank to them. I just don’t discuss it much… either because my recollection is too jumbled and turned around to relate sequentially, or it was distinctly unpleasant, or I just don’t remember things.

When my parents talk to me about people and events from their/my past, they usually preface it with, “Do you remember…?” And when I (usually) say I don’t, they give me a little background information and context, so I can understand what they’re talking about.

But at the same time, when I look back on my childhood and think about how it was for me, internally, there was a lot of joy and happiness I experienced. I have to say, the vast majority of my enjoyment happened in total solitude. Away from the intrusions of people who were constantly finding fault with me, constantly trying to get me to behave the way they wanted me to, constantly embarrassed by my behavior or confounded by my “willfulness,” or calling me names/teasing/taunting me. It’s remarkable, what a dichotomy there was between my external world, which wasn’t much fun, and my internal world, which was a continuous source of intrigue, learning, and entertainment for me.

Dealing with the outside world was largely a losing proposition for me. I didn’t have many friends, and the ones I did have, I often drove away with my intensity and my moodiness. When my parents sent me outdoors to play with the other kids, I was either overly domineering or withdrawn and marginal. It was all or nothing with me, and what few memories I have of my childhood social expriences are shrouded in a fog of confusion and confabulation.

Not that I want to sit around and feel sorry for myself… When I think back, I’m actually fascinated by the degree to which I was able to protect and shield myself from the outside world, simply by withdrawing into my own little world. I had a whole bevy of imaginary friends, I did role-playing ‘fantasy’ enactments, based on books I’d read, which I experienced like real life. In a very real sense, I constructed my own parallel universe where I could be “normal” and safe at the same time. None of my imaginary friends (even my enemies) ever made fun of me or treated me like the freak the rest of the real world did.

Books… yes, books… They were a great way to get away from it all. When I was reading, no one would bother me. And the rhythmic back-and-forth motion of my eyes was very soothing. Thinking back now, I realize that I didn’t understand everything I was reading. I often just let my eyes go back and forth across the page, picking up things here and there. My progress was very spotty. Sometimes I’d get what I was reading, and I’d follow it for a few pages. Then my attention would wander and I’d find several pages later that I’d lost track of where I was. But I wouldn’t go back and catch up. I’d just keep going, all the while making up my own story about what was happening in the book. I would literally “rewrite” parts of the story to fit what I thought was going on. And by the time the book was done, I had very little idea what it was actually about. I thought I knew, but when I talked to people about the story, their interpretation and recollection was usually pretty different from mine.

It never bothered me much when I was a kid, immersed in fiction. But as I grew up and I continued to construct my own parallel interpretations, it became a real problem. Being looked at like I had two heads is something I just got used to.

That habit of not fully understanding but making things up that “fit” my interpretation has dogged me all my life, and only in the past few years have I started addressing it. Only since I started working with my neuropsych have I actually been able to pause in the middle of a conversation and ask for clarification. That old habit of just pushing on without all the facts and information and concocting my own “brew” of world interpretation has been both a blessing and the bane of my existence. True, it satisfies a part of me and it lets me look like I’m keeping up even ahead of the game but in the end, I’m way farther behind than anyone really knows. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe I’ve gotten as far as I have in life, but instinct really does play a role and it’s served me well over the years. And presenting with an air of confidence and surety goes a long way, too.

All the same, it’s pretty friggin’ awesome to be able to get to the end of a conversation and know what it was about. Thank you, Dr.  C, for that.

Anyway, enough about me. People are starting to sit up and take notice of concussions in kids. And in professional athletes. And high school jocks. This is a good thing. Eventually, someone is going to figure out what many of us have had to find out on our own, and they’re going to start teaching it in schools. And I’m not just talking about an hour-long talk in an assembly, but a real, honest-to-goodness part of curriculum perhaps as part of preparation for participation in sports. Prior to the season start, when schools are doing baseline cognitive testing on their student athletes, that would be a good time to educate players about concussion the dangers, the warning signs, and the proper way to respond, both as an injured player and a concerned teammate.

If they can figure out how to do that, that will be a very good thing.

Oh, look at the time. Must get back to work.

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