OMAHA — Dr. Lindy Fields has studied concussions in athletes and told an audience Tuesday night that the answers to all their questions were going to be the same: inconclusive.
“It depends,” Fields said. “That’s really the answer for a lot of concussion related questions.”
Fields is a clinical neuropsychologist who spoke about cognitive function in former football players at the Science Cafe event hosted at the Slowdown bar in Omaha.
An assistant professor in the department of neurological sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Fields researched and did clinical practice with both active and former athletes, focusing on concussions.
Through her research, she found the data is inconclusive, but that does not make it meaningless. Concussions have a wide range of symptoms depending on the individual, she said.
“Since no two brains are alike, concussions can show up pretty differently between two people,” Fields said.
The data is recent, only dating back seven to 10 years, and because of this the long term effect of concussions, that makes any studies from it — and the national headlines that go with those studies — something to be taken skeptically, Fields said.
Currently, research is focusing on the individual’s brain in the moment rather than tracking the individual through time.This results in limited data because there is no before and after to compare.
“Going forward it will be so important to cover people over time,” Fields said.
One area of intense interest now is concussions in youth sports. Over the last decade, organizations have put processes in place to address players who have concussions to help prevent further injury.
Over the last 10 years participation in youth football has declined nationally by 9.3 percent, according to data collected by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“The focus is on how we can make sports safer,” Fields said.
Initiatives are being taken to adapt youth football to prevent common causes of concussion such as the Heads Up campaign. This focuses on teaching concussion recognition and proper technique to prevent concussions, among other things.
Across all youth sports, the new standard for concussion recovery is a four step process.
First stop activity, then progress into light aerobic exercise. Next move into sport specific exercises, then non-contact training, and after all those steps return to full play.
The key to this process is monitoring all symptoms and ensuring that through each step the symptoms do not worsen. Each individual goes through this process at their own pace.
Although Fields was not able to tell her audience whether or not concussions lead to difficulties later on in life, she remained positive.
“There’s a lot of research that has been done, but there’s a lot that needs to be done,” Fields said. “And I look forward to the next five to 10 years of research.”