The state of knowledge and policy on concussion in Rugby Football Union

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Westborough, MA  August 15, 2017 Just as American’s have begun to understand the true impact of concussion and the risk associated with repeat concussion and other blows to the head, the Rugby Football Union has started to take a serious look at the problem with respect to the long-term consequence of brain injury.  According to the New York Times in April 2014 “a tidal wave of earnings” may confound the rightful medical response to concussion injuries and dominate the return to play decisions on behalf of athletes who are found to have concussion. The remove-from-competition protocol has not taken hold in European rugby where players are routinely returned to play after a 5 minute time out during which they are examined by team medical personnel. Most are back on the pitch within 5 minutes. I have seen college Rugby games where this precise “recovery” was the norm.  The NCAA has protocols for managing concussion but in some club sports these protocols are not followed.
In 2011, Ben Robinson, a 14-year old boy in Northern Ireland, died from second impact syndrome resulting from playing through a concussion. He returned to the game three times after first being injured in a high school rugby match.  Ultimately he died after collapsing on the rugby pitch. Second impact syndrome results from a repeat brain injury resulting in a metabolic “energy crisis” that interferes with brain function including maintaining homeostasis on a cellular level. I  have documented it in several published Word Press Human Behavior posts.
More recently Irish Boxer Mike Towell died from second impact syndrome hours after his fight much the same way as 14-year old Ben Robinson.  He was seriously injured early in the bout and knocked down.  His toughness and tenacity along with unacceptable referee decision making allowed him to return to the fight. “The assumption that rugby had a better handle on concussions than football, however, might have been flawed from the get-go. The most recent injury audit performed by England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) established that concussions in elite-level professional games were occurring at a rate of 13.4 per 1,000 player hours.” Bandidi, 2016
The NCAA protocol is cited here.  “Medical personnel with training in the diagnosis, treatment and initial management of acute concussion must be “available” at all NCAA varsity practices in the following contact/collision sports: basketball; equestrian; field hockey; football; ice hockey; lacrosse; pole vault; rugby; skiing; soccer; wrestling.” Female athletes are particularly vulnerable to concussion and tend to have longer recover times. Concussion is sometimes considered an invisible injury largely due to the absence of frank signs of injury on the outside of the head.
According to the BBC, Towell was knocked to the mat in the first round of a 10 round bout.  He was given a standing 8 count and continued the fight.  Some said he dominated the next two rounds when finally in the fifth round he was again knocked down and the fight was ended.  Michael Sefton blog 2016

Burns, J. NY Times, In Europe, Echoes of America as Concussions Spur Debate, April 5, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/sports/in-europe-echoes-of-america-as-concussions-spur-debate.html?_r=0  Taken June 13, 2017
Sefton, M. (2016) Second Impact Syndrome. https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/second-impact-syndrome-rare-but-often-fatal/ Taken August 7, 2017
Bandidi, P. (2016) Rugby, like NFL, doesnt have the conussion-issue figured out.  http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/16029747/rugby-nfl-concussion-issue-figured-out Taken August 7, 2017
NCAA Concussion Concussion Safety Protocol. Guidelines https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/2017SSI_ConcussionSafetyProtocolChecklist_20170322.pdf Taken August 8, 2017

Construction and Self-monitoring

WESTBOROUGH, MA August 6, 2017 Self-monitoring refers to the capacity to observe one’s own behavior in real time. It is easy to see when someone lacks this important neurocognitive feature. Walk into any middle school and there will be hundreds of boys who act and behave without forethought.  Self-monitoring is a higher-order function that sets us apart from other species – even primates and is thought to mature in the second or third decade of life. It is possible to lose the ability to watch and adjust behavior such as with traumatic brain injury involving frontal lobe structures and in disorders of cognition such as dementia.  How is it possible to lose appreciation for the organization of the task (see drawing on left) and fail to notice one’s errors?
The bicycle task requires a rudimentary capacity to envision the bike and draw it from the image one has in his head.  It requires conceptualization, motor control and visual motor integration for success.  The task is age old – like the clocks frequently featured in these pages. Self-monitoring is a prerequisite for social pragmatics – a fancy term for acting your age. In some cases the failure in self-monitoring results in errors in behavior that can become socially debilitating – especially when the patient demonstrates an indifference to his limitations and does not respond to redirection and feedback.  The task of constructing a bicycle is a screening for higher order deficits.  Like the clock drawing it requires planning, organization, even mechanical awareness.  Muriel Lezak says that regardless of lesion the task requires judgment, organization, conceptual integration, and accurate self-appraisal.  Those with defective self-monitoring often miss important features and omit crucial parts of the bicycle’s mechanism like pedals, chain or both (Lezak, 1995)

 

 

“The capacity to self-monitor and modify one’s behavior is required in an open society or the lack of order would result in people being oblivious to each other and indifferent toward their personal effect on social and interpersonal relationships”    Michael Sefton 2017
In the first bike drawing the patient constructed the bicycle as asked but became confused very quickly.  the two objects extending out from the left and right are wheels that were drawn after I had asked “how does it work?” Interestingly one of the scoring criteria are the correct placement of spokes on the wheels. There are no spokes on the wheels of the second and third drawings. In some cases the concept of perseveration is revealing of decreased self-monitoring.  In a published blog the concept is described.  It is the process of repeating the same response over and over without awareness.

Lezak, M. Neuropsychological Assessment – Third Edition. Oxford Press, 1995.
Sefton, M. (2016) Perseveration, severation, eration, ation, blog post, taken August 8, 2017.

The results of postmortem examination of over 100 brains of NFL athletes are in

WESTBOROUGH,MA July 25, 2017 The laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine has recently completed its initial examination of over 100 brains donated by the family members of those athletes who have died because of marked behavior and personality changes attributed to playing football.  The results confirm the presence of destructive proteins that have come to be known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  This was first reported over 10 years ago and was featured in the movie Concussion released in 2015 starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, M.D. who first reported on the syndrome.

Multiple Sclerosis: And it’s insidious impact on thinking

WESTBOROUGH, MA May 15, 2017 Multiple Sclerosis is a demyelinating disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord of those so afflicted. MS is a disease that causes the immune system to attack the protective covering around the nerve fibers (Reference.com). Many of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord are covered with a myelin sheath – something like insulation on wire.  This permits the instantaneous transmission of nerve impulses from one part of the body or brain to another. In patients suffering with MS their myelin is deficient sometimes having reduced efficiency or not working at all. It is a condition that for many gets better and gets worse.  As you can see from this image taken from Google images the myelin sheath is the outer layer or membrane of fatty Schwann cells and other neuroglial support cells. MS may be linked to a virus and/or immunological compromise but its true etiology is not known.
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Google images
We see a fair number of persons afflicted with M.S. in the rehabilitation hospital here in Massachusetts. MS is known to be relapsing and remitting in its quality which adds to treatment complexity and frustration for patients. They are a fiercely independent group of people and I can certainly understand why that might be.  On some days they are able to get themselves out and into their cars for the drive to work something we might take for granted.  While on other days, they may have difficulty putting on their their shoes and making lunch.  Many are frustrated and angry that they cannot take care of themselves and sometimes wind up in our hospital getting physical therapy and other restorative therapies.  Aquatic therapy is a great resource we offer at Whittier in Westborough, MA.  I encourage people to become familiar with aquatic programs
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Clock drawing by patient with early onset MS
in their area. They can provide support, pain management and effective physical therapy for those who may have limited energy resources.  Fatigue becomes a problem in nearly all patients who suffer with multiple sclerosis.  Cognitive changes are common in patients who experience long-term MS that sometimes make subtle changes in personality and all higher order problem solving, reasoning, and other executive functions.  Some believe there are distinct personality features in those with MS
In addition to frustration and anger, some patients are resistant to restorative solutions suggested by rehabilitation team members who want to help.  Some say “they want to do things their way” and resist rehabilitative suggestions that might offer energy conservation strategies or innovative methods for greater independence.  Medication is used to reduce inflammation associated with MS and prevent relapse.

Reference.com. (2017) https://www.reference.com/health/treatments-multiple-sclerosis-2ed87c70dcd71896. Taken May 6, 2017

Return to school: Psychologists also working in the trenches after concussion

CONCUSSION-SCHOOL LIAISON 2017
WESTBOROUGH, MA May 1, 2017 The return to school following a brain injury should be carefully planned.  School nurses tend to be the point person for parents’ whose children are coming back to school after concussion.  But let’s not forget the school psychologist.  My wife, Mindy Sefton, Psy.D., is trained in concussion management and has crafted some of the best return-to-learn plans I have ever seen.  She works closely with the nurse and classroom teachers to be sure no student be placed at risk for failure. At her middle school there is a protocol for re-entry that is specific and tailored for individual students.
Students with acute concussion and those suffering with post concussion syndrome require assistance at school or risk falling behind their peers.  Some parents are not aware but it is true that when concussion sidelines and athlete he or she is highly vulnerable for school-related changes as well.  Schools or educational teams who are interested in offering a comprehensive concussion education program are encouraged to contact CAMP or Dr. Sefton directly for consultation. Student athletes often require support in school while recovering from concussion. Support protocols like reduced work, extra time for tests, and deferred projects are just three commonly prescribed accommodations.
 I am happy to help public schools with their protocols.  They are critically important for student success.  Individual programs can be integrated slowly on a team by team basis depending upon learning style, specific sport and unique student needs.  Dr. Sefton has specialized training in pediatric brain injury, concussion and neuropsychological assessment and is a member of the Academy of Brain Injury Specialists.  Training for coaches and trainers is available and recommended to identify updated return-to-play protocols and current standards of care.  Both web-based and individualized ImPACT testing is available for preseason and after injury assessment.  Return-to-play consultation is available with trainers and team physicians 24/7 at 508-579-0417 and email msefton@qmail.qcc.edu

School districts interested in using CAMP for supporting athletes injured while playing sports can contact Dr. Sefton at 508-579-0417.  Parents and physicians may call Dr. Sefton at any time to discuss individual injuries and school and sports  re-entry after injury. Post injury testing and neuropsychological consultation is also available. 

HeadacheReturn-to-Learn Care Plan
Some students who are injured playing in school sports may require a return to school care plan.  Dr. Sefton will consult with student, parents, and school personnel to assist with short-term accommodations in school that can assure for continued success in academic domains.  Not all children require changes in their educational programs but careful consideration of the child’s school functioning is essential.
Classroom teachers should be advised to monitor the student athlete for the following signs:
  • Increased problems paying attention/concentrating
  • Increased problems remembering/learning new information
  • Longer time required to complete tasks
  • Increase in physical symptoms (e.g., headache, fatigue) during schoolwork
  • Greater irritability, less tolerance for stressors

Chronic Stress – The unbridled malignancy that effects us all

WESTBOROUGH, MA January 31, 2017 There is no way to avoid a stressful life it seems.  Some people are better than others at reducing the impact of stress.  Excercise, healthy eating, regular sleep, and mindfulness reduce the impact of the stress and tension we all experience in our lives.  These behaviors are being taught to children who experience stress just like their parents in many schools. Meanwhile, concussion and more serious brain injuries result in changes in the autonomic nervous system that are sometimes life threatening.  The behavioral response of these afflictions include marked restlessness, anxiety, changes in sleep hygiene, abnormal pain response, and pervasive tension.
In cases of severe brain injury one might see autonomic storming as described in a prior blog. Autonomic storming results from trauma to regions of the brain that control primitive bodily functions like respiration, heart rate, and emotional regulation. This includes profuse sweating, elevated heart rate, rapid changes in body temperature and motor restlessness. These functions are comprised in the autonomic nervous system and are known as the fight-flight mechanism.  The sympathetic nervous system elevates blood pressure, respiratory drive, and gets us ready to fight or run.  Meanwhile, the parasympathetic system puts the brakes on these functions allowing the body to return to its normal resting rate.

“Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors.” Ahmed Tawakol, Harvard Medical School

Ostensibly, stress has the capacity to change this normal resting heart rate and slowly raise our levels making it difficult to truly relax. In the long term, external stress can change our heart functioning including hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia and put us at risk for cardiovascular illness including heart attack and stroke. Lifestyle changes are necessary to avoid long-term health problems from stress. Mindfulness includes deep, regular breathing, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation. It is being introduced in some public schools so that it may become part of the coping mechanisms used by kids when stress sets them off – as it undeniably will do.

Sefton, M. (2015). Heart rate variability: Biofeedback options for post-concussion syndrome,  https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/heart-rate-variability-biofeedback-options-for-post-concussion-syndrome/
WebMD (2017) Brain ‘stress ball’ may be key to heart risks. http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20170111/stress-ball-in-your-brain-may-be-key-to-heart-risks#2, taken January 14, 2017

Is there risk associated with valve replacement surgery?

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Clock drawing of 66-year old patient who was recent recipient of prosthetic aortic valve. Premorbid health was otherwise excellent.

WESTBOROUGH, MA  March 28, 2016 Whenever surgery is recommended there are inherent risks that should be understood. The  fast answer is “yes, there are risks when you replace someone’s aortic valve.” But not so fast.

Cardiac surgery has become almost commonplace in the current medical society.  Here in the Boston area there are several heart centers providing surgical treatments and risks have been greatly reduced in the past 25 years. Procedures are now minimally invasive and require much less recovery time than the former procedures.  Many centers are also using robotic assistance in valve replacement.  There are at least 3 major centers in Boston with excellent surgical teams.  Your physician will discuss these with you but the patient must understand the risk versus reward conundrum.  You can read the list below for a bullet point visual.  This is the case whenever one embarks on treatment – “what are the risks of taking one drug over another?” or “is there a risk when I undergo surgery to replace a stenotic heart valve?

One’s heart valves are meant to last a lifetime.  The heart valves are paper thin and amazingly flexible and strong. The majority of people are born with the valves they will have at the end of life – 5-6 billion beats later. Arguably the greater risk associated with valve replacement surgery may be linked to the pre-surgical health of the recipient of the valve.  It is common that patients have multiple comorbid medical conditions such a diabetes, poor cardiac health, hypertension, and obesity.  The outcomes become only slightly murky with the host of illnesses I just cite.

My role in the cardiac rehabilitation is to assess cognitive functions when necessary. This includes concentration, attention, S-T memory, problem solving, and higher order thinking skill.  It is not uncommon for patients to have altered mental status following surgery.  Sometimes this is simply the result of pain cocktail and anesthesia but other conditions can contribute to changes in one’s cognition as well.  Sometimes I am asked to provide support and counseling for those few patients who exhibit affective changes or frank signs of depression. On occasion behavior therapy is needed to redirect idiosyncratic motor restlessness or agitation.  In general the goal of cardiac rehabilitation is to enhance functional capacity in the areas of endurance, physical fitness and activities of daily living to regain their independence.  Full recovery requires a change in habits and lifestyle. This takes time.

The rehabilitation process is a continuum of care provided to those recovering from surgery who may be ready for the changes that will take them forward.  This includes physical exercise and the nutritional support needed to enhance patient outcome.

The vast majority of patients who undergo valve replacement surgery sail right through it and never come to hospital acute rehabilitation.  Most are referred to outpatient rehabilitation where they stay at home and attend rehabilitation during the day.  For those who are sent for inpatient rehabilitation they wrestle with fatigue as much as anything.  Many were in poor physical shape prior to surgery because of the insidious impact of declining cardiac health in the months or years prior to the procedure.  Post surgical depression is common in as many at 25-40 % of cases. Psychotherapy and coaching can assist in the management of feelings that are sometimes present during recovery.  I have heard “why am I doing this…” just as much as: “I can do this and have a second chance for health…”.

Risks of valve replacement

  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Cardiac arrhythmia – atrial fibrillation
  • Excess bleeding
  • Transient ischemia or stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Death – 1-2 %
NHS – UK website – taken 3-10-2016

The Cleveland Clinic has a wonderful video that is attached.

Cleveland Clinic Cardiac – Valve Replacement video