US concussion study may not apply to AFL: doctor
AN AFL Medical Officers Association boss has objected to the assertion of a Boston University expert that it would be ”naive” to think Australian footballers aren’t suffering the same degenerative brain disease as American athletes due to head injuries.
While acknowledging the pioneering work of Boston University’s Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the AFL MOA’s Dr Hugh Seward questioned the credentials of Chris Nowinski – a co-director of Boston’s CSTE who met AFL Players Association boss Ian Prendergast in America last month – to comment with such confidence on a foreign game.
In an interview with The Age after discussions with Mr Prendergast, Dr Nowinski described Australian rules as a sport with a ”very high risk for brain trauma”. He said he had watched ”a lot” of AFL football and, after taking a keen interest in how Australian sports are managing concussion, forecast Australian football codes would undoubtedly impose more rule changes to protect against head injuries following significant changes in the NFL and NHL in the US.
Boston’s CSTE manages the brain bank that has proved more than 20 NFL players have suffered from the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). As well as being a co-director of the CSTE, Dr Nowinski wrote Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis on the contentious matter and is a director of the Brain Injury Association of America.
Believed to be caused by repeated head knocks, CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem though victims have shown symptoms such as memory loss, depression and, in cases, suffered from early onset dementia.
”We’ve got no evidence to suggest that the condition we’re seeing in America from multiple head knocks – up to 1500 in a season – is akin to what we see in Australian football,” Dr Seward said.
”We’re not naive. We’re trying to understand it, and we’re looking at every aspect of past players and current players to understand it properly. At the moment we have no evidence that CTE is an issue, and the long-term brain damage that they’re talking about in America may not exist in Australia.”
The AFL’s introduction of more conservative concussion guidelines on the eve of last season coincided with former Melbourne player Daniel Bell revealing his clinical diagnosis with a brain injury linked to multiple concussions. Like former premiership players Dean Kemp and Chad Rintoul before him, Bell sought injury compensation.
According to a New York Times report last December, almost two dozen former NFL players are suing their league over brain damage they claim is linked to concussions.
The AFL has commissioned several studies of the sensitive issue and has recently committed about $35,000 to a project involving the retesting of 130 ex-players who had their cognitive function tested 20 years ago. After the AFL reported at the beginning of this season that the incidence of concussion rose in 2011, as many as seven league representatives – including Dr Seward – will travel to a world concussion symposium in Zurich in November.