As awareness grows of the grave dangers of concussions, coaches and parents across the nation are searching for ways to better manage these brain injuries in young athletes.
Financial giant Wells Fargo is pioneering a program in Sacramento, Calif., that creates a new insurance package that provides concussion testing and medical care for high school athletes. It's a level of diagnosis and treatment historically available only to the pros.
The initial program teams up four California insurers, and could serve as a model of brain-injury prevention for the rest of the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that each year U.S. emergency rooms treat more than 170,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, in children and teens.
"What the professional athletes have had medically, I hope sooner rather than later those types of resources are going to be available to high school kids in California," said Roger Blake, associate executive director of California Interscholastic Federation, the state's governing body for high school sports.
Under the Play It Safe Concussion Care plan, all players on a team get a baseline test of their brain function at the start of the season, while they're healthy. The computer-based ImPACT test -- also used in the National Football League and National Hockey League -- measures athletes' memory and response time down to one one-hundredth of a second.
Anyone who gets knocked hard enough for coaches to suspect a concussion takes the test again to see if his or her thinking is foggier.
The insurance covers any costs of treatment over and above what the student's personal health insurance will pay for -- which Blake said can amount to a lot. The plan's price tag is $350 for a team of up to 117 players, plus about $2 per student for the baseline test.
"We're trying to make sure kids get to people who know how to manage concussions appropriately," said Catherine Broomand, a neuropsychologist and director of Kaiser's Youth Sports Concussion Program. "Most of what we know about concussions, we've learned in the past five or 10 years."
"The key to all this is that (the athletes) don't return too early" after a blow to the head, said Blake. "I may look perfect, but that doesn't mean my brain has recovered totally yet." Repeat concussions can cause lasting brain damage and, if they come in rapid succession, even death.
In the past couple of years, the deaths of several former NFL stars from dementia-related complications and class-action lawsuits filed by ex-players have pushed the issue into the headlines.
"Now that people are paying attention," Broomand said, "it gives us the opportunity to provide a service that people wouldn't have taken advantage of before."
(Contact Grace Rubenstein at email@example.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)