Dementia and Depression May Plague Head-Injured Athletes

By Carol Bogart

As many as 3.8 million every year. That’s how many athletes may suffer bumps to the brain that could one day dramatically increase their risk of Alzheimer’s or crippling depression.

Conservative estimates say a full blown concussion is experienced annually by 350,000 U.S. athletes – athletes conditioned to ignore pain and keep on playing. Three concussions over a lifetime, some researchers say, and a person is at five times the risk for early onset Alzheimer’s, and four times more likely to develop severely elevated depression (http://www.nih.gov/).

Having lost my dad to Alzheimer’s, which doubles my risk in and of itself, I think with dread about how many times my son was knocked out playing hockey, as well as the brain shakers I’ve had.

Most recently, I was rollerskating for the first time in 15 years and forgot how to stop. Mike was, I guess, 9 or so when I I laced up my pair of ancient outdoor rollerskates, intending to take it slow for a few laps around the neighborhood as he rollerbladed.

Seeing the two of us out skating together (we’d gone a block), a friend of Mike’s threw on his own rollerblades to join the fun. The two of them were excited to show me one of their favorite spots to skate – wide pavement inside a condominium complex that faced Lake Erie.

Being a journalist and trained observer, I immediately noticed that the pavement was angled up. At the crest of this hill, I sat down on a low stone wall, explaining to the boys that I didn’t yet feel quite competent to handle the downhill side. Both insisted that it was “not that bad.”

Not wanting to appear to be a wuss to my son’s friend, I got back up, rounded the bend, and knew I’d made a big mistake. This pavement angled down steeply – building and parked cars on one side, strip of grass and lake on the other.

The last thing I remember was swerving toward the grass, hoping I could just sit down, and yelling to my horrified son who could see I was going much too fast, “Get out of the way. I’m about to get hurt really bad.”

The rest of it I only know from what the kids told me later. Concussions often have an amnesiac affect, I’m told. Evidently I skated right off the top of a seven foot retaining wall, and landed on my head on a metal drainage grate. Mike said he was digging grass and dirt out of my mouth while his friend pounded on doors, crying, “A lady’s hurt!!!”

The paramedics asked questions designed to determine if I had my wits about me. “Who’s the President?” they asked. “Hillary,” Mike said I answered. Since this mishap took place when the Bill Clinton administration was in office, I think that was a pretty good response. The paramedics did not. I was hospitalized for three days with both a concussion and a fractured back.

I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I’ve actually been knocked out – but then again, maybe I just don’t remember. I was an inveterate tree climber as a kid. Once, when I was hanging upside down from a branch, it broke. I landed on my head. The kids watching scattered in all directions.

Then there was the time my horse ran away with me because my stupid dogs were chasing him. Riding bareback, I felt myself start to slide. Afraid I’d end up under those pounding hoofs, I tried to brace both feet against his side to launch myself out of harm’s way. I plunged headfirst onto the field’s sandy soil and it rocked me.

Because it’s not yet known how such head injuries will manifest themselves in today’s athletes 15 to 20 years from now, there’s a move afoot to improve helmets and chin guards to protect heads better. As someone remarked to the Associated Press, it’s one thing for athletes to know that, if you stoop to pick up a grandchild 40 years from now, you may have aches and pains – something else again if you can’t remember the grandchild.

Carol Bogart blogs at http://carolbogart.blogspot.com/. Contact her at 3bogart@sbcglobal.net.

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