Head Trauma

A blow to the head that's severe enough to cause a concussion (a brief impairment of consciousness) can temporarily impair your memory. The impact can directly damage brain cells. It can also stretch or tear the axons, the fine "tails" of neurons that compose the white matter, the communication system of the brain and spinal cord.

Most people who suffer a mild concussion recover their memory and other brain functions completely within a few hours or days. But severe head trauma, such as an injury from a high-speed motor vehicle accident, often causes permanent damage. In addition, people who've incurred repeated minor concussions (for example, professional boxers) are prone to developing dementia and other brain disorders later in life. Years of playing competitive contact sports that involve repeated blows to the head, such as soccer or ice hockey, can exact a toll on memory and related brain functions in later life.

The issue of concussion in both recreational and professional sports has been gaining increasing exposure over the past decade. In fact, many professional teams have adopted guidelines for management of concussion and return to play. In 1997, the National Hockey League instituted a concussion management program in which every player who enters the league undergoes a standardized neuropsychological screening. Test data from screening is used as a baseline in the event of a future concussion. Each team has a designated neuropsychologist who examines players in the aftermath of concussion and assists in return-to-play decisions. I serve in this capacity for the Boston Bruins.

There has been a corresponding ripple effect through hundreds of universities and secondary school systems in the United States with regard to a wide range of contact sports. You can reduce your risk of concussive injury and head trauma by wearing a seat belt whenever you're in a car and by using protective headgear for activities such as bicycling, motorcycling, in-line skating, skiing, snowboarding, and contact sports.

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