Dear Mr. Dad: My kids (7, 10, and 12) are excited to sign up for sports in a few weeks, but with all the talk about concussions, I’m more than a little concerned. Plus, I just saw the new Will Smith movie, Concussion, which scared me even more. Short of not allowing them to play at all, is there anything I can do to lower the risk that my kids will get a concussion?
You’re absolutely right to be concerned about concussions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009, nearly 250,000 children under 19 were treated in hospital emergency departments for a sports-related concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI). There’s no question that many, many more young athletes suffered concussions but didn’t seek medical treatment.
Not all that long ago, people—especially coaches and athletes—didn’t take concussions very seriously. Athletes (mostly male) who “got their bell rung” were often encouraged to get back in the game as soon as possible. Today, scientists know that concussions are far more serious than just a bump on the head, and only about 10 percent of concussions involve a loss or consciousness (which includes “seeing stars”). Concussions are actually a type of brain injury that happens when the brain gets banged against the inside of the skull due to a sudden impact. They can cause a variety of short- and long-term damage, including memory, language, and concentration problems; irritability, moodiness, and other personality changes; difficulty making decisions; and more.