Lorraine Smith, head nurse at Norwell Middle School, said there is no such thing as too much information about concussions and other head injuries.
“We are learning more every day, and we need to educate the community about prevention, detection, and treatment,” she said. “Oftentimes, signs of a concussion go undiagnosed. We need to raise awareness so that doesn’t happen.”
Thinking they’re just having a headache, or are more tired than usual due to a heavy academic workload, students who get hit in the head — whether playing soccer, football, or any other sport — often brush off the incident, Smith said. “There was a time when people thought, ‘Oh, you just got your bell rung,’ and didn’t realize the seriousness of getting a concussion.”
In an effort to spread the word, Smith, along with parent Patrice Shields and the support of Norwell school officials and local sports booster clubs, recently held an event called “All You Need to Know About Concussions.”
Nearly 300 people from Norwell and neighboring communities attended the weeknight event, held in the at Norwell High School gymnasium.
Similar informational sessions have been held in area communities in recent years, and Smith said that due to the overwhelming response she received from her event (which included guest speakers Christopher Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston and Dr. Michael O’Brien from the Sports Medicine Division of Boston Children’s Hospital), she would like to see it held every year or every other year.
“What I heard from many people was that they were happy this wasn’t an antisports talk,” Smith said. “We’re not saying, ‘Don’t play sports.’ We’re saying take the necessary precautions, which includes base-line testing before something happens, so if there is an injury, doctors will have data to test against.”
Dr. Janet Kent, medical director of the Concussion Management Clinic at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, said she was pleased to hear of the Norwell event, and believes that Massachusetts is taking the lead on concussion awareness, largely because of a state law passed in 2010. Kent also said that based on her conversations at conferences, the South Shore is “ahead of the game” in Massachusetts.
The state law covers all public middle and high schools, as well as all other schools over which the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has jurisdiction. It requires parents, coaches, athletic directors, and school nurses to participate in annual training about concussions and other head injuries, and schools to hold informational sessions.
Kent said that while she is not sure whether the number of concussions is on the rise, she is certain more young people than ever are being treated in hospital emergency rooms for concussions.
Shields said that two of her three daughters suffered concussions playing sports.
“With my older daughter, I didn’t even know she had a concussion. She wasn’t acting very symptomatic, but I decided to bring her in’’ to her pediatrician the next day, Shields said, “and it’s a good thing I did, because she did have a concussion.”
Kent said there are many misconceptions about concussions, some of which keep those affected from seeking treatment. “For example, a lot of student athletes think you need to lose consciousness to have a concussion,” she said. “That’s not true; 90 percent of the time you don’t lose consciousness.”
She said that taking a computerized neurocognitive exam — which tests mental abilities such as recall, reaction time, and pattern recognition, to set a base line for a student athlete before any potential head injuries — is a good idea.
The tests are available at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and South Shore Hospital, and through a company, A Head of the Game, founded by registered nurse Jeannine Donato of Scituate after one of her sons sustained a concussion during a hockey game.
“It’s not covered by insurance, but it’s $40 well spent,” Kent said of the exam. “It’s stored on a server and is good for two years. Hopefully, you’ll never need the scores, but if you do, they’ll be there and it will make a huge difference in diagnosis and treatment.”
Juliet Pennington can be reached at writeonjuliet@ comcast.net.