By: Kristen Odland, Calgary Herald
Calgary Herald - A researcher from the Boston University School of Medicine said radical change needs to happen in concussion prevention.
"We're not having very big conversations about (concussion prevention) and part of that needs to come from the top down in terms of rule changes, policy changes, training changes," said Chris Nowinski, a leading expert in concussions, who spoke Sunday to a gathering during the Head On Sport Head Injury Prevention Convention at the University of Calgary. "Luckily, we are having conversations with the bodies that are in charge of those things.
"It's education." Nowinski, a Harvard graduate and former WWE wrestler, has been educating the masses on concussion issues. He's the co-founder and president of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to sports concussions, and the codirector of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University. Researchers there have set up a brain bank to investigate athletes for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease which causes cognitive decline, behavioural abnormalities including depression, and dementia.
The post-mortem analysis of brain tissue reveals concussions and nonconcussive blows could both be linked to the disease. About 400 athletes have agreed to donate their brains to the research facility when they die.
"It doesn't necessarily correlate to concussions right now, but that's because we haven't historically diagnosed them," Nowinski said. "It appears to be correlated to total brain trauma. We know that every hit to the head and every symptom counts."
On Sunday, the Sports Legacy Institute received word that the family of National Hockey League enforcer Derek Boogaard has donated his brain to the institution. Due to legal reasons, Nowinski couldn't speculate on Boogaard's situation.
Boogaard, who spent his first five seasons with the Minnesota Wild, was limited to 22 games last season with the New York Rangers due to a concussion and shoulder injury. He was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment Friday.
Concussion and spinal injury activist Kerry Goulet, who works alongside former NHLer Keith Primeau, told the audience Boogaard's family made the right decision in donating his brain to science.
"What a horrible, tragic incident that has happened," said Goulet, who suffered depression and the effects of concussions during a 16-year professional hockey career in Germany. "It brings back memories you just don't want to think about. It's a grieving time for the family; all of us a community of hockey and sports people are I'm sure sending out their regards for the family.
"And, hopefully, through his death and if it is in fact that it is something that has been dealt to him through concussion and possibly through the CTE situation, we learn from it."
Two cases of CTE in the NHL have been discovered.
Reggie Fleming died in 2009 at age 73 with dementia. Bob Probert, a 16-year veteran who died last summer after his heart gave out while he was fishing, suffered at least three concussions and struggled with substance abuse. He began to show signs of CTE in his 40s, such as memory loss and behavioural problems.
Both players were fighters.
The findings have fuelled the debate surrounding the need for rule changes in hockey, which largely came to the forefront when Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was sidelined with concussion symptoms this season.
"We knew it was real. I've been doing this for nine years and all of a sudden, now that Crosby's gone out of the game with a concussion, we take it really seriously," Goulet added. "People like Chris have been able to build an infrastructure for us to educate and hopefully make a difference in this thing."
Nowinski was speaking in Calgary along with Goulet, Calgary Stampeders medical services director Pat Clayton, Dr. Carolyn Emery, professor of pediatric rehabilitation at the University of Calgary, and Brady Greening, the director of health services and head athletic therapist at the Edge School.
All speakers alluded to the fact that children are much more susceptible to concussions. Nowinski said because their brains are developing, they are more sensitive to the excitotoxic shock of a concussion. Other factors are weak necks and torsos that can't distribute force of the body well, poor equipment, exposure to coaches of various levels of training, and have poor language skills to communicate concussion symptoms.
Helmets are one element in prevention, according to Nowinski, but rule and culture changes also need to be enforced.
"When we think about the problem with kids and playing contact sports," explained Nowinski. "We have to start thinking about the differences between adults and kids.
"If we're concerned about adults, we should be really, really, worried about kids."