Science & Research

Speakers warn of concussion dangers

To spread awareness, experts spoke about the causes of concussions and possible treatments

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 25, 2013

Kevin Robinson has been knocked unconscious 30 times and received more than 100 concussions in his 23-year career as a professional BMX rider. “Nobody’s ever taken (head injury) seriously,” he said in a lecture Thursday at the Alpert Medical School entitled “Diagnosed with a Concussion, Now What?”

The lecture featured Robinson and four doctors who spoke about different aspects of traumatic brain injury, diagnoses and treatment. The event was a part of the Brain Power lecture series, a set of quarterly lectures sponsored by the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, designed to educate the public about neurological problems.

In his years as a BMX rider, Robinson said he has witnessed countless concussions. He has lost and regained his ability to speak, his dexterity and his sense of self, he said. He has seen other bikers experience concussions and return to biking immediately, only to receive yet another concussion, which can often be fatal, he said.

Because of his experiences, Robinson has devoted himself to educating the public about the dangers of concussions.

Neha Raukar, assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of the division of sports medicine, spoke next. The brain sits on top of the spinal cord like “a lollipop on top of a stick,” she said. “If you get hit in the head, imagine the lollipop spinning.” That, she said, is a concussion.

Concussions can affect memory, orientation and balance in the short-term and can cause depression, anxiety and chronic pain in the long run, the speakers said.

Raukar said young athletes are especially at risk. It is important to treat any concussion immediately — often, parents and coaches will yell at any emergency medical technician that keeps a concussed athlete off the field, she said, but allowing them to play can be dangerous or even life-threatening.

Albert Telfeian, clinical assistant professor of neurosurgery, followed Raukar’s talk with a description of  worst-case scenario brain injuries, coupled with illustrative photographs. Telfeian treats and operates on the most extreme cases. “I’m the last person you want to see … but that doesn’t mean I’m some jerk,” he said.

Telfeain’s presentation included the story of an 18-year-old girl who blew the top of her head off with an M80 explosive. Surprisingly, she survived, he said. After his gory slides elicited gasps from the audience, he said he decided to “spare you the last slide on dog bites.”

Curt LaFrance, assistant professor of psychiatry, focused on the array of concussion symptoms and treatments. He said he wanted to give audience members — many of whom had suffered or knew people who had suffered serious concussions — “a name to put to (their symptoms), a language to communicate in.”

He reviewed his overall treatment approach, which focuses on both the physical brain and the cognitive concept of “the mind.” Therapy and changes in lifestyle such as diet and sleep patterns can help patients deal with the aftermath of their traumatic injuries, he said.

Michelle Mellion, assistant professor of neurology and a physician at Rhode Island Hospital, discussed post-traumatic headaches, which affect up to 90 percent of concussion patients. She reviewed basic treatment plans and ways to avoid the “vicious cycle of medication overuse.”

After the presentations, the audience — which included medical professionals, people who experienced concussions and their family members — had a chance to ask questions. The most frequently asked question was, “When will I get better?” to which Raukar replied, “we have no crystal ball.”

At the end of the event, audience members shared support and resources. Two speech pathologists offered their services, audience members shared numbers of different clinics and doctors shared their perspectives on successful and failed treatments.

“I’ve never been to anything like this before,” said Cheryl Savaria, a nurse and EMT. She said she would apply what she learned in the field.

Victoria Conte, a high school science teacher whose son suffered a concussion, said the lecture was “phenomenal” and supplied her with tools she plans to use in her  classroom and home.

Audrey Kampper, a colleague of Conte’s, said she hopes to bring her science students to the next Brain Power lecture. “It’s a great series,” she said.

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