As a magazine of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Brain Foundation (ABF), we are able to bring you valuable information about diagnosing, managing, and treating neurologic conditions. Each year, the AAN—an association of more than 27,000 neurologists and neuroscientists—convenes an Annual Meeting in which the latest neuroscience research is presented to more than 11,000 clinicians. The AAN's 66th Annual Meeting will take place from April 26 through May 3, 2014, in Philadelphia, PA.
Two studies that will be presented pertain directly to the cover story in this issue of Neurology Now about former professional football player Ben Utecht, who sustained several concussions during games that resulted in serious neurologic problems. Concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). One research group tested how well 10 commonly used brands of football helmets protect against TBI, brain bleeding, and skull fracture. TBI is caused by the combination of linear and rotational forces. Linear force involves straight impact to the head. Rotational force, which involves impact at an angle, can cause more serious damage to the brain by breaking the connections between brain areas.
The researchers tested a crash test dummy head—with and without a helmet—to evaluate the effects of multiple head impacts, each 12 miles per hour. Tiny sensors installed at the center of the head measured how much linear and rotational force was generated. Overall, football helmets reduced the risk of skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent. But helmets reduced TBI recurrence by only 20 percent compared with a test dummy without a helmet. This suggests that the helmets in current use don't provide much protection against serious TBI and may provide a false sense of security to athletes who wear them.
In the second study, the researchers examined the benefit of adding a quick vision-based test (which examines rapid eye movements, language, and concentration, all of which can be impaired as a result of concussion) to the standard TBI evaluation used on sports sidelines. A total of 217 athletes from the University of Florida men's football team and women's soccer and lacrosse teams were tested at the beginning of the season and again if a TBI was suspected during play. Among 30 athletes with TBI, 79 percent had a worse performance on the vision-based test compared with 52 percent using a standard TBI evaluation. Combining information from both tests, they found that 89 percent of athletes with TBI were correctly identified; when results from a third test evaluating errors in balance was added, 100 percent were identified. Further, a worse score in the vision-based test correlated with more severe TBI symptoms.
As we learn from Ben Utecht's story, rest is essential after a TBI for the brain to heal. A second TBI before this healing has occurred puts the athlete at significant risk for permanent neurologic problems. Better TBI diagnosis at the sidelines is crucial for protecting the brain health of all athletes. TBI is a serious problem not just for athletes, but for the many other people who suffer head injuries outside of the sporting arena.
If you live in the Philadelphia area, join us at the ABF's Brain Health Fair, a free family-oriented event that kicks off the AAN's eight-day meeting, on April 26, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. You can learn more about the impact of neuroscience research on our lives and how to keep a healthy brain, attend classes taught by neurologists, and even meet Ben Utecht and his fellow ABF Ambassador Billy McLaughlin, who was featured in Neurology Now in July/August 2010. The Neurology Now team will be there, too. We would love to have the opportunity to meet you and get your feedback about our magazine. Visit BrainHealthFair.com to find out more and register to attend.
Take good care,
Robin L. Brey, M.D.