High School Football ‘Brain Abnormalities’ Found Even When Concussions Weren’t Present [Study]

Photo from Penn State

With football season winding down, many parents are breathing a sigh of relief that their children have survived another year without concussions. However, new research shows that these more fortunate parents may be breathing their sighs of relief a little early.

The study, which looked at 24 high school football players, is the latest in a series of analyses from Wake Forest’s Kinematics of Impact Data Set, or KIDS, project, Insurance Journal reports.

For the methodology, KIDS researchers fitted players, aged 16 to 18, with accelerometers on their helmets “to detect how many head impacts the players had and how hard the hits were,” IJ states, adding that tracking took place during both practices and games.

Players submitted to advanced MRI scans prior to the start of the season. These particular screens were called “diffusion tensor imaging” (DTI), and they detect the brain’s white matter microstructure — “the millions of nerve fibers called axons that transmit information around the brain,” the news site adds.

Nine heavy hitters and 15 light hitters were identified from the accelerometer data.

Additional scans followed at the end of the season, and what the researchers found was concerning, even for parents whose student athletes did not experience a concussion for the year.

The findings showed “observable brain abnormalities” in the heavy hitters without concussions, specifically in the corpus callosum and other “deep white matter tracts.”

What does this mean to the long-term health of high school football athletes? That, the researchers don’t know.

“It is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long-term consequences,” said Christopher Whitlow, an associate professor of radiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina. “There’s a lot we don’t know about these changes. Do they persist over time? Do they go away? Are they associated with some subtle cognitive changes? We haven’t really answered those questions yet, but are planning to in the future.”

“It is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long-term consequences,” he added.

While supporters of high school football will point out that the sport still has many positive health benefits, these findings could be of great concern to any parent, whose child is a significant part of a sports program.

Many of these individuals are your insurance customers, and at least one insurer has taken steps to protect families in the event that the dangers of the game hit a little too close to home.

Wells Fargo actually has what they call a Play It Safe Concussion Care Program. The program combines the following:

Excess Insurance coverage. The concussion accident medical insurance policy includes no deductible, no co-pays, and up to $25,000 per injury.

Injury education and awareness. We work with your school or organization to promote concussion awareness and education amongst coaches, players, and parents.

Program processes for covered athletes, or an overview of the claims process for covered athletes.

To read more on the study, click here.

 

In Summary

If your company has something similar, it’s not a bad idea to look over your actuarial data and check out which customers have high school aged children on their policies. Knowing who has a child in the game can open you up to a new line of business while also giving concerned parents peace of mind and additional options. It’s true that it won’t eliminate the risks of the game, but it could be the extra blanket of protection needed given that so little is known about football and its relationship to head injuries.

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