Tag Archives: concussions

Tip sheet provides pointers on concussion-related testing and other concussion research resources

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Courteney via Flickr

Photo: Courteney via Flickr

In what seems to be an eternity ago, I wrote about a pair of studies on concussions for Scientific American. The 2013 piece was interesting to write because it covered two studies whose combined findings revealed as much about the gaps in concussion research as they did clinically useful findings.

A few years after that, I wrote about a panel at the 2016 Health Journalism conference on sports concussions that highlighted some of the questions journalists need to consider when writing about this often contentious research. Continue reading

Covering sports concussions: Some takeaways from the #AHCJ16 panel

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Tara Haelle/AHCJNFL free agent Josh Cribbs captivated attendees with his own experiences, talking about the lengths that players would go to conceal possible concussions and game the tests.

Photo: Tara Haelle/AHCJNFL free agent Josh Cribbs captivated attendees with his own experiences, talking about the lengths that players would go to conceal possible concussions and game the tests.

Conversations about concussions, traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have become more common in recent years as many military veterans return with disabling head injuries and the impact of football injuries on the brain gets more scrutiny in medical research.

The recent movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, raised even more awareness of the sports side of the issue. The higher profile in the media about sports head injuries, specifically in football, was the focus of a well-attended panel, “Covering the Concussion Crisis: Research and Real Life,” at the Health Journalism 2016 conference last month. Continue reading

Making the most of medical research sessions at #AHCJ16

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

road-to-cleveland-2Each year, the AHCJ conference includes a smorgasbord of opportunities to inform and enhance journalists’ knowledge and reporting. Topics include health care disparities, hospital performance reporting, age-specific conditions for youth and elderly alike – and, of course, what the medical research reveals about these and other subjects.

Even in sessions that focus on a specific population or a condition that doesn’t immediately seem relevant to medical research – such as how to cover the ongoing opioid epidemic – there likely are ways that the material intersects with research on that topic. If you’re looking for stories that might involve some digging in PubMed, here are some sessions to consider during Health Journalism 2016 in Cleveland, April 7-10. Continue reading

As Tenn. lags in youth sports concussion laws, reporter shows delay taking a toll

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Tennesean‘s Nate Rau becomes the leader in the clubhouse for 2012’s “most viscerally disquieting use of a verb” award after opening his youth sports concussions story with “The hit that sloshed 17-year-old Joseph Lascara’s brain.” The entire anecdote, much like the hit it describes, is well-timed and jarring, and Rau then follows through with a thorough investigation of Tennessee’s legislative approach to youth head injuries, or lack thereof.

high school tackle

Photo by Eagle102.net via Flickr

The state’s athletic association has adopted limited concussion prevention and treatment regulations, but they do not apply to nonmember schools or independent youth sports organizations. Furthermore, Rau writes that efforts to pass statewide legislation “fizzled” this year, meaning that “Tennessee is now one of only 11 states, mostly in the Southeast, without a law,” even though “doctors who specialize in youth concussion care say the issue is urgent.”

The number of youth concussions treated at hospitals in Tennessee has increased 74 percent from 480 in 2007 to 834 in 2010, according to the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program, which functions as a resource for Tennesseans recovering from brain injuries. Those numbers do not include young athletes who were treated by their pediatricians instead of going to the emergency room.

Journalists looking to replicate Rau’s work would do well to note how he used public records requests to access the so-called “Return to Play” forms (required by many state and local concussion-prevention laws) which doctors must file before young athletes may return to the field. While some local counties couldn’t locate the forms, the 140 he did find indicated a somewhat inconsistent implementation.

The review showed that doctors are frequently clearing athletes to return to practice or competition without following the recommended guidelines that gradually ease players back into physical activity. Of the 156 athletes who visited a doctor with concussion-like symptoms, 57 were immediately cleared to return to play.

New health-related state laws for 2011

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Many thanks to Melissa Preddy for pointing out, in a post on the Reynolds Center’s businessjournalism.org, the National Conference of State Legislatures’ roundup of new laws that have already go into effect in 2011, or will soon. It’s a national list loaded with localization-ready ideas and issues that should be surfacing throughout the year. Hot-button topics include expanding medical coverage and several nutrition-related laws.

Here are a few highlights, taken directly from the NCSL’s list.

Connecticut will soon be requiring health insurance policies that cover anticancer medications to cover the oral drugs at least as favorably as it does the IV ones. The law prohibits insurers from reclassifying anticancer medications or increasing the patient’s out-of-pocket costs as a way to comply.

A new Missouri law requires all group health benefit plans to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Coverage is limited to medically necessary treatment ordered by the insured’s treating physician. The law also requires the Department of Insurance and other institutions to submit a report to the legislature regarding the implementation of this coverage, including specified costs.

California became the first, on Jan. 1, 2010, to prohibit oil, shortening or margarine containing artificial trans fats in restaurants and other food facilities. Beginning Jan 1, 2011, the original law will extend to other foods containing artificial trans fats, primarily baked goods.

Retailers in Minnesota will now be banned from selling cups and bottles intended for children age 3 or younger that contain bisphenol A (BPA). These same restrictions went into effect for in-state manufacturers and wholesalers on Jan. 1, 2010.

California lawmakers have also enacted a new law requiring free drinking water for students in school cafeterias or food service areas. Schools must comply by July 1, 2011.

California will soon require all children under the age of 18, including patrollers and resort employees, to wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding. Resorts will be required to post notice about the law, including on trail maps and resort websites.

Researchers surprised by concussion study

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for Sports Illustrated, David Epstein tells the story of a small-scale Indiana football concussion study in which in which the youth in the control group unexpectedly became the headliners. The researchers were using functional MRIs and the popular ImPACT test, along with helmet-mounted accelerometers, to figure out what sort of hits cause concussions and how the consequences of such hits vary.

helmet

Photo by Les_Stockton via Flickr

Their first discovery? That “no particular magnitude of hit correlated with a concussion.” In fact, the youth they studied were suffering from very few concussions. It wasn’t until they started testing the unconcussed youth, as a sort of control, that they started seeing the results that have come to define their study, the full text of which is available online. Epstein again:

Of those eight [unconcussed youth], four nevertheless showed significant declines in visual memory. In fact, the players with the most impaired visual memory skills were not coming from the concussed group but from a group that in the week preceding the test had taken a large numbers of hits—around 150—mostly in the 40 to 80 G range

If the test scores were accurate, the researchers had inadvertently documented, in real time, a new classification of high school athlete: a player who was never concussed, was not verbally impaired and was asymptomatic even as far as his parents could tell, but whose visual memory was more impaired than his amnesic, headachy, light-sensitive, concussed teammates.

Researchers discovered one other surprise: The players who were asymptomatic but had impaired visual memory had suffered hits to the upper forehead, “which houses the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – where linemen get hit, play in and play out,” as opposed to the heavy hits to the side of the helmet that most of us associate with concussions.

It’s a very small-scale study – only 21 boys completed the study conducted over one football season – but the researchers are expanding their work this season. Nevertheless, Epstein indulges in some speculation:

Consider this: Concussions as we know them involve a hit that rattles a part of the brain involved in language processing or motor skills. Hits to the forehead that might be every bit as damaging hide their nefarious effects in the frontal lobe, a part of the brain primarily involved in visual memory, planning and cognition, rather than motor or sensory function, and thus not taxed by sideline concussion exams. Indeed, it’s possible that all along, while brain trauma questions have focused on concussions, the real damage is being inflicted by minor impacts that chip away at the brain.

In another piece in Sports Illustrated, Peter King looks at recent violent hits in the National Football League that have attracted attention, the NFL’s attempts to make the game safer and the fans’ and players’ attitudes about the game.

Online guide focuses on covering medical studies

Covering Medical Research

Reporters are inundated with lures to cover the latest medical study or scientific conference paper. And there are some significant milestones being reached in medical research. But, more often, the information reaching the public is way too preliminary or even misleading, say those behind a new AHCJ reporting guide on covering health studies.

The guide will help journalists analyze and write about health and medical research studies. It offers advice on recognizing and reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals and it includes 10 questions you should answer to produce a meaningful and appropriately skeptical report. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a road map to help you do a better job of explaining research results for your audience.