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Daily Dish: Long-Term Effects of Brain Injuries Junior Hockey News

Published: Thursday, 21 Jun 2018  
By: Stephen Heisler, JuniorHockey.com


Today's Dish is going to be a little different.

Brain Injuries and hockey have gone hand-in-hand from the early stages of the game. As the players and game have evolved, the protection and awareness of the dangers has become as important as the game itself.

In 1993 I was involved in a car accident that changed everything about my life. The way I think, speak, see, walk, and even react to seemingly everyday situations.

Years later, I still struggle to find the right words in my speech, and often cannot get the words to come out, causing a stammer. Headaches are something I struggle to manage. I can feel one coming on for a day, than suffer through a daze to try and clear them. The mood swings that come with the headaches are legendary. How Deysi and the kids put up with me is beyond comprehension.  I have not been able to climb a ladder, or even stand on a stool, without nausea and have failed field sobriety tests despite not having a single drink in weeks.

There were other concussions prior to the accident. I learned later in life that each is compounded and the symptoms can worsen over time. Aside from a regular does of the smelling salts as a player after getting the bell rung, one of my cousins accidentally clobbered me with a baseball bat, I was hit by a car while riding a bicycle, and once got shoved into the flag pole by an overzealous opponent while running full speed down the makeshift sideline in a lunchtime touch football game. The last two also turned the lights off and I awoke in the hospital. 

After the car accident, I awoke with the loss of feeling over the entire right side of my body, from the neck down. I'd try to stand up, and fall straight to the floor. As the brain swelling reduced, the symptoms diminished.  My doctor said it best after hearing the complaints about some of the issues I was continuing to deal with. "You are lucky to be alive, but some things will never be the same again."

The seriousness of head injuries and concussions are only recently becoming more understood. Research now shows that the effects often last a lifetime.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a rapid movement or blow to the head. The concussions' long lasting effects have many medical professionals alarmed.

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a set of disorders with symptoms that last for weeks, months, and years. The force accompanying the concussion event can tear, displace, or crush delicate brain tissue, causing the PCS symptoms to last until healed, or forever if the damage is permanent.

While any of the PCS symptoms could last indefinitely, even with proper treatment, brain injuries can also lead to long-term problems such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia.

Psychological symptoms, which are present in about half of people with PCS, often include irritability, anxiety, depression and a change of personality. Other emotional and behavioral symptoms are restlessness, aggression, mood swings, anger, impulsiveness, and a lack of ability to tolerate stress.

Other physical symptoms include a sensitivity to light, slight decrease of the senses of taste and smell, along with blurred vision. Insomnia is also very common.

I spent a few hours one Sunday with a retired Neurosurgeon talking about head injuries, concussions, and PCS. We agreed that education is the most important aspect of the problem. One key point that he made actually makes a lot of sense. Accidents happen is all aspects of life, and the benefits of athletics far outweigh the risk of concussions and head injuries. He applauded the efforts of science to improve protection in the game of hockey, but still has a difficult time with the sport allowing fights to continue.

I also asked him about my own experience with the after effects of the injury and what was said helped ease my own concerns. Now only if I can get him to explain it to my wife.

The physical aspects and speed of hockey directly enhance the popularity of the game. One of the by-products is the real risk of brain injuries. Protective advancements and better awareness will help eliminate much of that risk. As a sport, we are also doing a much better job of properly treating our players when such an injury occurs.

We can still go further by mandating stronger enforcement of the rules. Charging and elbowing calls also need to be made. Enforcing the rules already in the book will go further than creating new ones.

Another key to protecting players is for us all to protect the game. Let's teach players that physical play can be a very important element of the game. The goal has to be to take the opponent out of the play, not out of the game entirely. 

That's just my opinion, I'd love to see yours.


Author: Stephen Heisler from JuniorHockey.com
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with the Heisler Group. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.





* Disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Stephen Heisler, and not necessarily the views of JuniorHockey.com. JuniorHockey.com does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.
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