Originally posted to UW’s The Daily
Concussions, once considered limited to high-contact sports like rugby and football, have now been shown to affect individuals of all ages and walks of life. Older adults, young children, professional athletes, and even those playing flag football at their local park feel the impact as concussions reverberate throughout diverse populations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 7% of young people in the United States are expected to have had a concussion by the time they are 18 years old. Dr. Monica Vavilala, a professor at the School of Medicine and the director of Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC), shed light on the diverse range of patients she sees, including victims of bicycle injuries, car crashes, falls, and assaults.
“People used to think of concussions as being something different from a traumatic brain injury — that concussions were mild, no big deal and didn’t really require that much attention,” Vavilala said, according to the UW Medicine Newsroom. “But work done here at UW Medicine and HIPRC has shown that there are long-term sequelae from concussions that are going under-recognized and undertreated.”
In all 50 states, legislation known as “Return to Play” has been implemented to provide guidelines for safely returning to sport-related activities after a concussion. However, there was no guidance on how to properly integrate students back into the academic setting until Vavilala and a team of researchers developed Return-to-Learn.
Return-to-Learn focuses on providing high schools with a program to coordinate care between physicians, parents, and school administrators to ease complex communication and help return students to the classroom.
UW Medicine has cited concern about an ongoing trend of patients not being properly diagnosed, and thus not receiving the treatment they need to heal.
“What we want to tell parents is to be vigilant, to be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions, to not ignore it, to seek medical care when it happens, so kids can be evaluated and followed,” Vavilala said.
These symptoms include headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and emotional problems. In school-aged children, these problems can manifest through difficulties with schoolwork and a decline in academic performance.
The state of Washington has been at the forefront of concussion research and care. It was the first state to enact the “Return to Play” law in 2009. Currently, lawmakers and health care professionals are working together to officially pass Return-to-Learn and convince other states to do the same.
Health care officials urge that parents, coaches, and administrators remember that children are students first and athletes second. Often a child is prepared to return to school before they are ready to return to sports and other recreational activities.
“What’s really important to remember is that we should be thinking about returning to learn before we return to play,” Vavilala said.
Reach reporter Kylie Rashkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @kylierashkin