By Sachin Seth
Erin Taylor can’t play basketball anymore. The second-year arts and contemporary studies student suffered her ninth concussion last year playing on the women’s varsity team for Ryerson and had to go home to Calgary for the rest of second semester to recover.
“I stopped playing so I could get better and the specialist said I can’t play anymore,” she said.
“If I kept playing sports, I could have permanent memory loss.”
And according to a study by the University of Montreal, athletes who suffer a concussion during their playing career can still suffer from mental and physical problems 30 years later.
This research is the first of its kind to look at the impact of concussions this far in the future — most studies only look at the short-term effects of head injuries.
But the study found athletes to have impaired brain and motor functions even after just one concussion.
Immediate signs of a concussion are sometimes hard to spot, and even coaches and trainers can miss them.
At Ryerson, head athletic therapist Jerome Camacho is working with varsity teams to help diagnose this “invisible injury.”
“We try to make sure they don’t go on to play after bad head injuries,” Camacho said.
“It can be serious and we try to educate ourselves and the athletes as much as possible.”
The study also focuses on the serious long-term effects of the head injury, citing concussions as a potential source of Alzheimer’s later in life.
Although the researchers studied former university hockey and football players in their sixties, there is still great risk of severe long-term injury with other sports.
Camacho said sports concussions are comparable to injuries sustained in a car accident.
“Your body moves forward but because you are restrained by your seatbelt, that shaking is enough to cause a concussion,” he said.
“In sports, a check from behind in hockey can do that too. Your brain shakes around in your head like an egg.”
In Taylor’s case, she sustained numerous concussions playing high school basketball.
She said her coach shouldn’t have let her keep playing because she didn’t have time to recover from her head injuries.
After Taylor suffered her ninth concussion at Ryerson, former athletic therapist Lynn Kaak noticed she had memory problems, and Taylor went to see a specialist.
Her memory has improved, but she can never play sports again.
“I spent eight or nine years of my life training for university basketball and because of my high school coach, I can’t play anymore,” she said.
Hockey is another sport where concussions can happen at any time during game play.
A misplaced hit or a check into the boards can knock a player unconscious instantly.
Men’s hockey coach Graham Wise said Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and other professional leagues are doing everything they can to prevent concussions and ensure the safety of the players.
“It’s a contact sport, things are going to happen. But I think officials are doing everything they can,” he said.
“I mean look at the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) now, the kids can’t remove their helmets when fighting because of the kid who died in Senior AAA.”
Wise is referring to Don Sanderson, a 21-year-old hockey player from the Whitby Dunlops who lapsed into a coma in December and later died after his helmet fell off during a fight and his bare head made contact with the ice. At Ryerson, an athlete must rest for a week to 10 days after a concussion is sustained before they can be re-evaluated.
“One guy (on the hockey team) just recently showed symptoms. He went through the protocol and was just cleared to play a while ago,” Wise said.
“The therapists make sure the athletes are okay before putting them back in the lineup.”