August 1, 2011

In our last post, we were talking about two lawsuits filed recently against the NFL. The players, most of whom are retired, say the league knew of the link between football and brain injuries but chose to keep that information from players, their families, coaches and trainers. The suits come in the wake of a high-profile concussion awareness campaign launched by the NFL last year — a campaign that has resulted in changes to how Portland youth teams respond to suspected brain trauma.

One of the complaints asks the NFL for financial support (to cover medical expenses) and for ongoing medical monitoring. The funding would augment benefits from the league’s 88 Plan. The NFL and the players’ union established the 88 Plan as a way to help players who have dementia or other concussion-related conditions.

Long-term effects of concussion can include Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. For the most part, CTE has only been diagnosed after death, when a full examination of the brain is possible.

Now, however, advanced brain scans can detect CTE while the patient is still living, offering families an opportunity to plan — and to know what they’re dealing with. CTE can cause violent mood swings and personality changes. Families who have gone through it say the autopsy results gave an explanation but were also painful to hear.

Since 2009, the NFL has encouraged players to work with the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. The center has been conducting brain injury research based on autopsies of football players and boxers, as well as one professional hockey player. At least one player with CTE now has agreed to leave his brain to the center for research.

Finally, the NFL has adopted the concussion guidelines as well. An injured player cannot return to the field until he has been cleared by an independent physician.

The guidelines are certainly a start, but researchers remind us often that there is no cure for a concussion.

Source: USA Today, “Current, former players sue NFL over concussions,” Aug. 19, 2011


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