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It is football season. For fans, that means pizza, key plays, and wearing your lucky socks every weekend. For players, it means grueling work to make and stay on the team, fame or infamy (depending on what plays you make or miss), and hard hits. This week, those hard hits were the focus of much attention as questions abounded about the cause of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide. Could the popular Belcher, who joined Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV) during college, have suffered from traumatic brain injury?
Traumatic brain injury is also of prime concern to the military. Servicemen are at risk of concussions caused by the force of explosions, or a direct hit to the head. Like the NFL, the Army is concerned about the short and long-term effects of TBI. On November 28th, the Army joined forces with the NFL to sponsor a forum on traumatic brain injury and how to better protect servicemen and players from their long-term effects.
Football players and servicemen are not the only ones at risk for TBI. Most athletes face the risk of head injuries; female soccer players, boxers, hockey players, you—during a bike ride in your neighborhood, from a fall off the monkey bars, or while wrestling with your sibling.
Traumatic brain injury sounds simple enough to understand—a traumatic injury to your brain. And, it is clear that with only one brain you do not want to injure it. After all, your brain is the seat of all your body and mind does. But, what are the causes of TBI? What risks do athletes face? What are the signs of TBI? How is it treated? How do traumatic brain injuries differ? And, what are the long-term effects and why are they especially troubling?
This week, give new meaning to the hard hits taken (or given) by your favorite gridiron players by learning more about TBI.
Mission Control: Your Brain
Traumaticbraininjuryatoz.org, sponsored by the Air Force Surgeon General, is dedicated to educating people about both the brain and traumatic brain injury. Before you immerse yourself in the information, familiarize yourself with how every page is organized: section chapters in the left margin, text in the center, and video and interactive features in the right margin.
Since traumatic brain injury is all about injury to the brain, it helps to understand the anatomy and functions of the brain. Look inside the brain by using the interactive brain. Begin by watching the Introduction and the Anatomy Overview videos. There are four tabs along the bottom: side view, inside view, vision, left & right brain function. Open each and listen to audio descriptions of the functions of each. Learn about the lobes of the brain and their functions.
Your brain is the control center of all physical, emotional, and mental functions. With several layers protecting it, how can it be injured? Discover what traumatic brain injury is and common causes of TBI among servicemen. In the video, Dr. Jansen mentions that TBI can range from mild to severe. Discover the differences between mild, and moderate to severe TBI. Read (or watch) the chapters about mild TBI to learn causes of mild TBI, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Compare this to the causes, symptoms, effects, diagnosis, and immediate treatment of moderate to severe TBI.
Brain anatomy and TBI may be important and fascinating; however, where there is brain injury, there is also a personal journey. Hear from soldiers who experienced TBI and the caregivers who helped during their recovery.
Hard Hits and Helmets
NFL players can experience hundreds of hits per year. Some estimate that NFL players suffer from 50 to 100 concussions per year. These athletes are understandably concerned about the long-term effects of concussions and more severe TBI.
Watch the first 6:11 of 60 Minutes episode A Blow to the Brain to learn more about the scientific research that delves into the long-term effects of TBI. How is Dr. McKee able to study brain disease in NFL players? What does she discover?
Since the 60 Minute interview, Dr. McKee has continued to research brain disease in athletes. Her latest research was published in periodicals just last week, December 4, 2012. Turn to Time Magazine to discover what Dr. McKee has discovered about the stages of brain disease. In what lobe of the brain did she find most disease begins? What structural damage did she find?
Right now, it is impossible to diagnose the brain disease associated with repeated, long-term TBI. CTE can only be diagnosed after death. One hope is that Dr. McKee’s research will inspire scientists to develop brain scans able to detect this brain degeneration. Another hope is that her research will enable scientists to develop helmets that more effectively protect the brain. View the NFL’s evolution of the NFL helmet. What materials are used in each helmet? (Pay attention to the inside of the helmet, too.) What areas of the head are protected?
Some NFL players, including former Steeler Hines Ward, believe that eliminating helmets from NFL play would encourage players to be more cautious and would result in fewer hits. That seems unlikely. Instead, NFL helmets continue to evolve. Watch WebMD’s video about the newest NFL helmet. How are these different than the previous helmet and why were these changes made?
It used to be most people played most sports without using helmets. Now, strapping on a helmet is a part of most activities, from roller skating to skiing. For children, most head injuries are caused while riding bikes. (Or, more accurately, falling off or crashing bikes.) Read (or listen to) the Kids’Health article about bike safety, including Helmet How-Tos.