Cooler temperatures this last week are a stark reminder that the end of summer is drawing near. As the wife of a volunteer Somerset Hills football coach and the mother of five children, including three who participate in various competitive sports, my mind and schedule are already shifting back to the new school year! We certainly love summer, but my family looks forward each year to the excitement and promise of the new school year and the kick off of the fall sports season. As a Cognitive Skills/Learning Specialist, however, the beginning of fall sports always gives me pause because of the risk of sport related concussion. Fortunately, much has been learned about the brain and with baseline testing parents and athletes can breathe a little easier!
Concussions Are Common, But They Are Serious Business
According to the Center for Disease Control, 1.6 - 3.8 million concussions occur each year. It is estimated that 5-10% of athletes will experience a concussion in any given sport season. Football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males (75% chance for concussion). Soccer is the most common sport with concussion risk for females (50% chance for concussion). Cheerleading, baseball, field hockey and other fall sports also put our kids at risk.
There are distinct differences in age when it comes to managing sport related concussions. Recent research demonstrates that elementary, middle and high school athletes not only take longer to recover after a concussion when compared to collegiate or professional athletes, but they also may experience greater severity of symptoms and more neurological disturbances. It is also estimated that 53% of high school athletes have sustained a concussion before participation in high school sports. Because the frontal lobes of the human brain continue to develop until age 25, it is vital to manage youth concussions very conservatively to ensure optimal neurological development and outcomes.
There are tremendous physical, emotional and social benefits associated with participating in sports, and I would never counsel families against participating. I am, however an advocate for ensuring that student athletes don’t compromise their physical or mental wellbeing. Although damage is not always immediately visible to the naked eye, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury, and it is serious business. It is imperative that a child fully recover from one concussion before risking a subsequent one. Establishing a baseline before any potential injury is a vital tool in the event of future injury.
Baseline Testing Is Imperative To Ensure Cognitive Wellbeing & Is Available Locally
There are many computerized baseline tests available on the market today, but traditional neuropsychological testing, like the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ III) used at LearningRx Warren, have been used for over 30 years in the assessment of cognitive function before and after concussive injuries. These neuropsychological tests are designed to measure cognitive skills and abilities such as intelligence, problem solving, memory, concentration, impulse control, and reaction time, to name a few.
The Woodcock Johnson III Test of Cognitive Ability is considered the gold standard in assessing a person’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. It is the testing most commonly used by medical and educational professionals to assess cognitive function. While there are many computerized baseline tests available today, the results of those tests are rarely owned by the person assessed. When administered at LearningRx Warren, the WJIII test results become the property of the student/family and would provide a valuable tool for parents to share with their child’s teachers, coaches and doctors in the event of injury. Testing would also provide valuable information to families about their student’s brain skills, which is relevant to optimizing performance in school, sports and life, even if s/he never sustains an injury.
A Special Offer to Facilitate This Critical Testing for Youth Athletes
Because of the importance of cognitive skills testing for young athletes, LearningRx Warren is offering our cognitive skills testing package for $149 (normally $299 at LearningRx and $600-$1300 elsewhere). If you mention this article and testing is scheduled and completed by September 30, 2013, we will also donate $50 back to your child’s team/athletic program . . . money we hope that will be used for parent education, new equipment or other things to keep our kids safe.
Thank you for your part in exposing kids to the many benefits of team sports and for helping to raise awareness about concussions so we can keep our kids as safe as possible!