Oct 25, 2017
Protecting Young Brains

While head injuries in the NFL are getting most of the attention, a new partnership is making sure the issue of concussions in youth football doesn’t go unnoticed. Pop Warner teams in Gainesville, Fla., have joined with Athlete Brain, a University of Florida student organization, to provide baseline concussion testing for the youth football players and cheerleaders.

Since the testing began on Aug. 28, 84 football players and about 40 cheerleaders from ages five to 11 have participated in the testing. It entails the child-SCAT3, a sports medicine concussion assessment tool, which includes memory and balance assessments. The baseline testing helps reveal an athlete’s normal brain activity so doctors can more easily identify any abnormalities should a concussion occur. It also goes hand-in-hand with standard protocols following a head impact, such as pulling the affected athlete out of the game and seeking evaluation by a trained specialist, all of which can help reduce the risk and the severity of an injury.

“If we can establish that everyone is going to get baselined before they start playing, then it sets a good precedent of making sure that every player is safe,” Athlete Brain’s President Alyse Hausman, a UF applied physiology and kinesiology student, told WUFT News. “It makes the parents feel like their kids are safer, and it gives a source of information for them as well.”

Athlete Brain is comprised of about 30 UF students. All of them have completed training in concussion testing and are studying applied physiology and kinesiology, biology, neuroscience, pre-med, or engineering. The organization is led by UF Clinical and Health Psychology and Neurology Professor Russell Bauer, PhD.

Besides the baseline testing, Athlete Brain has talked to the Pop Warner parents about the risk of head injuries in football and other sports.

“Concussions are going to happen, particularly in sports,” said Jason Zaremski, MD, CAQSM, FACSM, FAAPMR, Assistant Professor in the UF Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and Co-Medical Director of the school’s High School Outreach Program. “But there are ways to decrease worsening concussions, and there are ways to decrease risks of concussion by making sure you do things the right way. It’s important that parents — in this case for their children — understand the ramifications of what a concussion is and how appropriate treatment can mitigate and decrease symptoms and how it can get their child safely back on to the field.”

Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department organizes the partnership. Going forward, it hopes to continue providing baseline testing for youth sports in the area beyond football.

For John Veilleux, Head Coach of the Tiny Mites youth football team, the partnership with Athlete Brain has been a very welcome addition to his efforts to keep athletes safe.

“It’s going to be a really good way to see if someone has actually had a concussion, because not all the time the symptoms are cut and dry,” said Veilleux. “Baseline testing is another step in a lot of things we are already doing. We try to do a lot of things within practice to match them up with other kids at their level to minimize the chance of a concussion or any other kind of injury.”

Image by C Watts

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