Researchers in British Columbia are recruiting young athletes for a national study they hope will shed new light on youth concussions.
The SHRed Concussions Study, funded by the NFL’s Scientific Advisory Board, aims to improve knowledge around prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries among youth.
Researchers are looking for athletes aged 13 to 17, and guarantee participants fast-tracked specialized concussion care.
Sixteen-year-old Metro Vancouver hockey player Zach Abernathy, who recently sustained his second concussion, is among those participating in the study.
Abernathy was injured after being checked head-first into the boards from behind during a recent game.
“I had to leave the game because I had a constant headache, I was kind of nauseous, I was quite dizzy all the time, then I knew it was pretty bad the next day because immediately when I got to school my head was pounding, I couldn’t focus,” he told Global News.
Abernathy’s mother Xanthe Brown said getting quick access to a concussion specialist was a huge relief.
She hopes the experience will help her support other parents in the same situation.
“Its terrifying. Nobody ever wants to see their kid get hurt, especially when its a hit to the head,” she said.
“You sort of feel very helpless, there’s not a lot you can do.”
The rapidly growing body of knowledge around concussions has generally focused on adults, according to Dr. Shelina Babul, associate director at B.C. Injury Research and Prevention unit at BC Children’s Hospital who is spearheading B.C. recruitment.
That’s a problem, Babul said, because children, especially those who play high-impact sports, are at risk of getting concussed.
“Over 50 per cent are in the youth population from participating in high-risk sports, so that’s why we want to monitor these kids, to see what’s happening and what can we do to try and prevent this,” she told Global News.
“Concussions have come a long way in the last 10 years, we’ve learned so much, we’re recognizing it’s a brain injury and it’s not just having your bell rung, but we have a long way to go to really understand why no two concussion are alike and why everybody responds very differently to an impact to the head and ultimately to the brain.”
Participants in the study will be followed from concussion through recovery, with researchers gathering data on everything — from brain scans to bloodwork.
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Babul said that data will allow researchers to look for trends such as who might be more prone to concussions, or commonalities among youth who have more challenging recoveries.
Researchers are also hoping for clues, such as markers that may turn up in patients’ blood, that could allow for the development of a rapid diagnostic test.
In the meantime, Abernathy said participating in the study has helped him cope with the anxiety around the injury.
“It helped me feel a lot more confident when I returned to playing hockey, because I got looked at by a concussion specialist,” he said.
“I know a lot more about concussions now. I spoke to specialists about the consequences and some of the things I can do to prevent concussions.”
— With files from Global’s Ted Chernecki