While it may be fun to watch your little guy suit up for peewee football, one brain specialist has serious concerns about your kid's safety on the gridiron.
Brain-imaging specialist, psychiatrist and bestselling author Daniel G. Amen, M.D, conducted a study of retired NFL players. The results showed that one half of them are currently overweight or obese and have been limited in their current workout activity because of the physical damage they suffered during their playing days.
As if that weren't enough, Amen's study also found that it's common for a retired NFL player currently in his 50s to have the brain of someone in his 80s.
Wearing the proper sports equipment -- such as protective helmets -- is key, Amen says in an interview with CYInterview.com. "I think we have no love for the brain in our society," he says. "That's just clearly evident [in] how we cheer [during] ultimate-fighting matches or when someone has a really bad hit on the football field."
But Amen has further advice for parents who have children who want to play football at all costs. He suggests having them screened for the apolipoprotein E4 gene. People with that gene who receive a head injury are at a significantly higher risk for developing Alzheimer's Disease.
So how do we know if the injuries our children get on the court or in the field will lead to brain damage -- damage that can affect the parts of the brain that control emotion, rage, sexuality and even breathing? According to Dr. Cara Natterson, long-term effects are usually associated with repeated concussions.
momlogic: How do you know if your child has suffered a concussion that is truly damaging and will have long-term effects?
Dr. Natterson: "There aren't many studies specifically [done] on children, but the lessons being learned from adult studies are being applied to kids -- especially teenagers. Among pediatricians, the importance of staying out of sports and play until the concussion is completely healed has been emphasized. This is because repeat concussions seem to have cumulative effects and result in increased vulnerability to additional injury. While no one completely agrees upon when it's safe to return to play, everyone agrees that the child should be completely symptom-free -- at rest and during play; that he or she should have a neurological examination that shows normal results; and if an image -- such as a CT or MRI -- is performed, it should look normal."
ml: How do you know if your child has suffered a concussion?
Dr. N: "The definition of 'concussion' is 'a trauma-induced alteration in mental status that may or may not involve a loss of consciousness.' There are many different scales used to measure the severity of a concussion. Certainly a concussion with loss of consciousness is almost always more severe than one without."
ml: Are there certain sports that are more dangerous than others?
Dr. N: "According to a review of pediatric-sports-related concussions published in the Journal Pediatrics in 2006, nearly all athletic endeavors pose some risk of concussive injury. Among the more commonly played high-school sports, football and ice hockey have the highest incidence of concussion, followed by soccer, wrestling, basketball, field hockey, baseball, softball and volleyball."
ml: Are non-contact sports like gymnastics or cheerleading just as dangerous?
Dr. N: "Non-contact sports like cheerleading and gymnastics aren't necessarily as likely to result in concussion, but, by the same token, they aren't exempt from risk, either. The Pediatrics article also said that, in certain sports, the risk of injury depends upon the position played, and that in most sports, higher rates of concussion are seen during games (compared with practices) -- except possibly in volleyball and cheerleading."
ml: How can parents protect their kids from developing CTE and still allow them to participate in sports?
Dr. N: "I think that is really the key question. Every sport has some risks; certain sports just have more of them. Helmets are used with much greater frequency these days. (Remember when we all skied without them? Not so long ago ....) And they are designed with greater sophistication. Protective measures are increasing in many sports, from the rules of play to the actual equipment worn by players. I think that all parents need to be aware of the risk of concussion, particularly in contact sports, and should weigh those risks as they decide which sports to choose for their children."
Extreme measures -- or responsible parenting? Tell us what you think.