It used to be that coaches and trainers didn’t pay much attention when an athlete took a blow to the head during practice or competition. But that attitude has changed drastically over the last couple decades.
"I think we've gone a complete 180," says Lindsay Nelson, an assistant professor of neurosurgery and neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Nelson is the principal investigator on a study of how high school and college athletes are affected by concussions. She and a team of researchers at the Medical College's Brain Injury Research Program have been conducting the study on athletes at eight institutions around Milwaukee, and testing them before and after concussions.
The study is part of a growing body of research on how concussions affect young minds. "This is still a relatively young area of research, and twenty years ago there were a lot of misconceptions that we're just starting to resolve really," she says.
"People are often surprised to hear that our clinical management guidelines are based on almost no scientific data. We really have very little research basis for the clinical management decisions that we make," Nelson adds.
Concussions are temporary alterations in brain function and can be quite serious, especially for developing minds. The team of researchers are collaborating with software developers at UWM and are using an app that helps them get real-time data from athletes, who are of particular interest given their increased risk of getting a concussion.
"There's interest in what to do with them, how long to take them out of play and how to re-expose them to physical and other activities in a way that helps their recovery and doesn't hurt it," Nelson explains.