College Alum Discusses Concussion-Related Injury, NFL

Kevin Crutchfield, the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute of LifeBridge Health Comprehensive Sports Concussion Program Director, presented on his experience with concussion at the National Football League (NFL) level in his lecture, “Neurology of Concussion,” given Friday, Sept. 30 as part of the Psychology and Neuroscience lecture series.

Given at 4:40 p.m. in the Goodpaster Hall lecture room 195 to an audience of students and faculty, Crutchfield’s lecture focused on the causes and symptoms of concussion-related injuries and included information on treatment and prevention. Crutchfield was also introduced as the Associate Professor of Neurology and Military Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD, by Associate Professor of Psychology Anne Brady.

Crutchfield began with a clarification on his job as consultant with the NFL. “It’s not my job to take someone out of the game,” he said. “It’s my job to educate them, to allow them to make an educated decision.”

With that introduction, Crutchfield began to teach the audience about concussions, which are brain injuries caused by sudden blows to the head or body. The damage can lead to inflammation and altered blood flow to certain neural tissues, and if left untreated, can cause neural damage.

At this point, Crutchfield emphasized the true danger of concussions: recurrence. “A concussed brain, even if completely healed, is vulnerable to further injury,” he said. “All brains are different and an injury’s severity, effects, and recovery are difficult to determine.”

In 2006, the NFL set a helmet impact alert system to 98 grams to detect high-level kinetic force impacts on players during games, increasing the ability of trainers to pinpoint potential concussion victims following a collision on-field. A similar system is used in the military, with a beeper system to communicate the problem to soldiers on the battlefield.

Crutchfield continued with a discussion of the behavioral symptoms of concussion. Clear manifestations include dizziness, loss of balance, headaches, light sensitivity, and nausea. These can also cause lability (quick changes in emotion), sadness, irritability, changes in sleeping patterns, memory dysfunction, and overall “fogginess,” or cognitive slowness.

To detect these symptoms beyond social interaction with the patient, physicians can conduct cognitive tests called electroencephalograms (EEGs) to detect changes in brain activity, sleep tests, and physical or speech therapy.

In the second part of his presentation, Crutchfield turned his focus from causes and symptoms of concussion to how to treat and medicate concussion-related injuries.”First, [sleep-related issues] are targeted,” said Crutchfield, “then migraines.”

Crutchfield discussed different sleep abnormalities, including apnea (not breathing when asleep), and followed it with a more in-depth discussion of migraines and medication available for treatment (including beta-blockers, anti-convulsants, and Elavil).

While depression and aggression-related issues can be treated to some degree with medications, memory loss is mainly treated with a balance of therapeutic techniques and exercises to attempt to restore normal function.

“It was a very interesting lecture,” said sophomore Greg Flanigan. “It was a little medical-heavy towards the end, but definitely interesting and informative about concussions not being simple things to care for.”

While the topic of the next Neuroscience Program lecture on Nov. 4 has not yet been announced, the program is currently preparing for its annual Brain Bee, to be held in February next year to competitively test neuroscience understanding in high school students.

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