National Brain Awareness

by Dawn Huffman

National Brain Awareness Week is March 14 - 21. Mille Lacs Health System wants parents of students who play sports to know a program is in place to deal with concussions.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury or TBI, caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way the brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. They are difficult to diagnose and symptoms may not appear immediately.

A concussion damages an important part of the brain called white matter, a vital part of the central nervous system that delivers information from one part of the head to another. To sum it up: The more concussions a person gets, the less clearly they think. One of the common lingering effects from a concussion is depression.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teens with a history of concussions are more than three times likely to suffer from depression as teens who have never had a concussion.

In the Mille Lacs area, schools have tried to lessen the impact of concussions in athletic sports by giving ImPact baseline tests to all student athletes. Since 2011, Mille Lacs Health System has donated the funds to the public schools which pay for baseline testing, so that every athlete can be tested each year.

“ImPact baseline testing has been a great tool for treating concussion injuries,” Dr. Arden Virnig, M.D., from Mille Lacs Health System, who spearheaded the collaboration, said. “In the past, concussions were looked at regarding just what the person was physically capable of, whereas now, this test actually looks at the brain’s thinking process in a quantitative state to identifying if the brain is still healing or if more testing is needed.”

A baseline test measures things such as verbal and visual memory, motor skills, reaction times and impulse control. The test is conducted before injury, usually before the season starts, then again when an athlete sustains injury. Comparing post-injury test results to baseline test results can assist healthcare professionals in identifying the effects of the injury and making more informed return-to-school and play decisions.

“Having the ImPact testing available to our athletes has brought more concussion awareness to our students and the community,” said Tyler Soderstrom, Athletic Director for Isle Public Schools. “With that awareness, athletes are more likely to report symptoms because they actually know what the symptoms are.”

Scott Klicker, Athletic Director for Onamia Public Schools said, “Using the Impact baseline testing has helped reduce injuries because student athletes and their parents are more aware of what to look for so they are less apt to overlook a symptom and brush it off.”

Signs and symptoms of a concussion are: headache, weakness, numbness, decreased coordination or balance, confusion, nausea, slurred speech, vomiting, or just not feeling right.

A person may feel fine right after getting injured or a jolt but symptoms can happen hours later.