In the past year, several sports and medical organizations have taken independent but cohesive actions toward making sports safer from a neurologic standpoint.
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) represents more than 21,000 neurologists in the United States. In 2008, the AAN issued a position statement calling for greater neurologic participation in the regulation of sports that involve intentional trauma to the brain. Jasper Daube, M.D., chaired the AAN’s boxing task force. “It is the intention of the AAN to work closely with sports organizations to protect participants from serious neurologic injury,” Daube said.
Michael Mazzulli is vice-president of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). “The ABC is working with physicians around the country to make boxing safer by imposing tougher medical regulations,” Mazzulli said. He also believes that only by educating fighters about the dangers of repeated concussions can we avoid chronic brain injuries and early dementia.
In Boston, the Sports Legacy Institute has begun the post-mortem analysis of donated brains from deceased NFL players to study the effect of repeated head trauma and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. So far, five players who died in their 30s and 40s have donated their brains. All show pathologic changes consistent with those seen in dementia. Each player suffered multiple concussions in their careers.
Next week the PBR (Professional Bull Riding) will begin an extensive study including neurologic and neuropsychometric evaluations of its participants in an effort to make their sport safer. This study will include the use of accelerometers to measure the forces involved in injury and will compare results of riders using helmets versus those who do not.
These efforts indicate willingness for both medical and sports organizations to work together to reduce the risk of brain injury in athletes. Substantial changes can’t be far off with everyone moving in the same direction.