Concussions and Football: Can Tech Soften the Blow?

Concerns about the long-term consequences of repeated concussions have been raised so much this year that the story is increasingly being picked up by media outlets around the country. Now it’s even caught the attention of the tech world, and early efforts to try to ameliorate the problem with apps and iPads are beginning.

In June, a master complaint against the National Football League that unified more than 80 lawsuits brought by 2,000 former NFL players was filed. Those who brought the suits believe that the NFL was deliberately misleading when it came to players’ risk for neurological injury associated with athletic brain trauma.

According to the press release, many who suffered concussions while playing in the NFL later experienced dementia, depression, early-onset Alzheimer’s, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among other conditions. Millions of dollars, including several million committed in September by the NFL itself, have been put toward researching the impact of brain injury from contact sports.

It is known that there is greater risk for young football players to experience a concussion. This is because children’s brains are less myelinated than adult brains, Dr. Robert Cantu, a professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a recent interview with NPR.

“Myelin is the coating of nerve fibers like coating on the telephone wire. It gives it better transmission, but it also gives it greater strength. So a child’s brain is much more easily damaged from acceleration forces imparted to it,” Cantu said.

With football season now in full swing for players from the Pee Wees to the pros, prevention of worst-case scenarios is at the forefront of safety advocates’ minds. The New York Times and NPR both gave attention to this story Tuesday.

The New York Times article covered the debate taking place over the future of football in Dover, New Hampshire. There, a retired doctor has advocated for the end of the 100-year old program.

NPR reported on a Pee Wee game in Massachusetts that ended with alarming results. The final score was 52 to zero, and by the conclusion of the game five kids on the losing team had suffered concussions.

Meanwhile, in answer to growing concerns about the dangers of concussions, developers at the University of Michigan came up with an app. Return2Play was created by the U-M Pediatric Trauma Program in partnership with Michigan NeuroSport. The iPhone app allows users to log the dates and details of their injuries. They can also enter notes about their activities as well as their symptoms and the severity level.

“This allows for a more streamlined, efficient clinic visit by eliminating the need for recollection of the injury details, signs and symptoms. It also provides a learning section that provides quick access to education and tips about concussion,” Amy Teddy, injury prevention program manager at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said in a news release.

The New York Times ran an article on another way that an iOS device is being used to treat concussions. Team doctors in the NFL newly have access to sideline monitors that help them identify injuries when they happen on the field. When a player suffers a head injury, a medical staff member is able to use an iPad to carry out a standard league concussion assessment.

In time, research might show that this is a much bigger problem than any app can hope to help. But both of these new tech uses are good initial responses to a growing health concern.

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