Protecting minds from CTE in youth football

Doctors are warning the parents of young football players about the dangers of brain injury.

After studying the brains of hundreds of players, doctors and researchers are warning of repeated hits to the head in sports.

It’s a warning that made the parents of one 11-year-old decided to avoid football altogether.

He is now playing soccer even though the sport wasn’t his first choice.

“When [Rowen] turned eight or nine, he really really wanted to play full-contact football. just couldn’t let him do that,” said Jason Ball, Rowen’s dad.

Rowen has already suffered two concussions and his dad didn’t want to risk any more injuries.

“I understood most of it, because my dad would explain it a lot to me when I always asked him if I could play, which was a lot,” Rowen said.

In a new study out of Boston, researchers examined the brains of 246 football players, 211 of them had CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is a brain disease often found in athletes, military and other people who sustain repetitive brain injuries or trauma.

The study found that those who started playing football before the age of 12 increased their risk of CTE.

Researcher Michael Alosco says, “that younger age of first exposure appears to increase vulnerability to the effects of CTE and other brain diseases, meaning it influences when cognitive, behavioral and mood symptoms begin.”

Sports Neurologist Vernon Williams warns not to draw conclusions prematurely.

“I don’t ignore this information, but I think it’s only a piece of the information, and it needs to be considered in the context of the bigger picture,” Williams said. “And in the context of what we don’t yet know.”

Dr. Williams adds that today’s players have better helmets and safety measures in place than the players in the study did. Still, Jason doesn’t regret keeping Rowen out of contact football.

“I love my boys, and I want them to have the same quality of life they have now as they do in their 40s and in their 60s,” Ball said.

Researchers caution that this is a single study, but kids whose brains are developing shouldn’t be hitting their heads repeatedly.

He also says parents should make sure their children’s coaches minimize risk and repeated hits to the head.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion, and when to seek medical attention according to the CDC:

Danger Signs in Adults

In rare cases, a person with a concussion may form a dangerous blood clot that crowds the brain against the skull. Contact your health care professional or emergency department right away if you experience these danger signs after a bump, blow, or jolt to your head or body:

  • Headache that gets worse and does not go away.
  • Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination.
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea.
  • Slurred speech.

The people checking on you should take you to an emergency department right away if you:

  • Look very drowsy or cannot wake up.
  • Have one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other.
  • Have convulsions or seizures.
  • Cannot recognize people or places.
  • Are getting more and more confused, restless, or agitated.
  • Have unusual behavior.
  • Lose consciousness.

Danger Signs in Children

Take your child to the emergency department right away if they received a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, and:

  • Have any of the danger signs for adults listed above.
  • Will not stop crying and are inconsolable.
  • Will not nurse or eat.
Reporter:Andrew Keesee
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