Ontario concussion research centre scores $500K donation from NHLPA

LONDON, Ont. — Pro hockey players, many of whom have suffered their share of head-shots, are giving $500,000 to a London, Ont.-based centre for concussion research.

The NHL Players’ Association hopes its gift can play larger than its size and assist in generating donations of more than $3 million for a problem that’s causing headaches, and worse, for at least 160,000 Canadians each year.

It’s not just the big hits that can cause long-term brain damage but the little ones over and over again, experts said Wednesday at the third annual See The Line concussion conference at Western University for researchers, doctors, athletes, coaches and parents.

“It isn’t the concussion, the severity of concussion, the number of . It is the repeated exposure to this type of issue that’s the risk factor” for long-term brain damage, said Dr. Ann McKee a researcher in brain injury from contact at Boston University School of Medicine.

She said it’s important to establish baselines for athletes and then routinely monitor the hits they receive over time.

Others at the event said contact in sports, including headers in soccer, should be banned until athletes are teenagers.

Kids are like “little bobbleheads” and people younger than 14 are “physically not able to protect themselves,” from head hits, even with protective gear, said Tim Fleiszer, a former pro football lineman and part of the concussion-prevention group Sports Legacy Institute.

In a news release, head Don Fehr said the gift will support research into how to prevent, diagnose and treat concussions that have claimed or shortened many sports careers and affected their lives beyond sport.

Sports-related concussions account for about half the country’s new cases each year.

See The Line honorary chairperson Eric Lindros — whose NHL career was cut short by repeated concussions — said he hopes research will lead one day to full recoveries for everyone living with a concussion.

One of the more promising developments is a blood test, still in development, that could help determine the severity of a concussion and help advise when a person can return to sports, work or school.

At one time, athletes dismissed head injuries as insignificant: so-called “bell-ringers” that they should either ignore or work around.

But now it’s recognized as a serious problem that affects memory, mood, balance, concentration and can have a lasting impact on a person’s life.

A history of concussions can be a trigger for early dementia or other diseases that affect the brain.

With an increasing number of children and teenagers being diagnosed — some have to sit out school for weeks, even months — it’s important that players, coaches, teachers and parents know the signs and to respect the importance of taking steps to allow the brain to heal.

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Dr. Maurice Strong, dean of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University and a specialist in ALS research, said the NHLPA donation will be a catalyst that helps concussion research move beyond clinical trials and into widespread application on the field, rink and doctor’s office.

The NHLPA announced that its gift is also a challenge it hopes parents, athletes and philanthropists will accept to raise another $2.6 million for concussion research.

What is a concussion:

A type of brain injury caused by a blow to the head (from a hit, a fall or another injury) that shakes the brain inside the skull and causes damage.

Short-term symptoms can include headache, nausea, balance problems, dizziness, sensitivity to noise or bright lights, confusion, memory loss.

Long-term effects can include depression, early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with likely links to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig disease) and Parkinson’s disease.

The London Free Press

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