Improvements, gaps in concussion awareness in Iowa


    The Brain Injury Alliance will be presenting a proposal at the state capitol this week, asking for state funding that will go towards educating teachers about how to assess a student's concussion related injury.

    1.6 million to nearly 4 million concussions in the United States each year are related to sports and recreation. Medical and research experts said state legislation and access to insurance have made positive strides in helping students get back on their feet after facing their own concussion experience.

    "Brain injury is the last thing on your mind until it is the only thing on your mind," said Geoffrey Lauer, CEO of the Brain Injury Alliance.

    In 2018, the Iowa legislature updated state concussion law to ensure high school officials and health care providers take more steps before a concussed student can go back on the field.

    "It's a multi-step process, 5 or 6 steps where you start with some easier exercise, progressed to more sport specific drills before you see contact and before you go all the way back to full practice and full play," said Dr. Andy Peterson, Associate Professor of Pediatrics with University of Iowa Sports Medicine. "Most people were already doing that kind of stuff. This law really puts those things more officially into the law."

    The law also requires 'return to learn' protocols for schools, which is how and if a student can go back to learning after their concussion.

    "Teachers have been overwhelmed by many responsibilities, and sadly, this is another one, where sadly the health of students is now impacted by the quality of their experience during the day," said Lauer.

    Laurer said this areas of the law still needs work, such as providing funding to educate teachers on how to best accommodate for their athletes recovering from a concussion and returning to the classroom.

    "Without the need to frame it as a disability, because it's not a disability," he said. "Its, hopefully a short term health condition."

    Helping young athletes recover, however, is not just about resources at school.

    "We always felt like there was a gap for parents who thought they couldn't afford to take their son or daughter to a doctor for a diagnosis," said Alan Beste, Executive Director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association.

    The IHSAA said they have paid 59 claims for high school athletes since starting their free concussion insurance program in August, its offered to all players in men and women's high school sports in the state.

    "The interesting thing to me is, while the majority of those were in football, there were also claims paid in wrestling and there were claims paid in swimming, so it's not just a single sport type of insurance," said Beste.

    Beste recognizes some holes in the program like families and coaches may not know free insurance is available, but they hope this will change over time.

    Medical experts said identifying and treating high school concussions before it's too late is still improving overall.

    "Now all 50 states have these types of concussion laws, and it's about doubled or tripled the number of people that are seeking medical care for sport related concussions," said Peterson. "We think that this has created increased awareness and more people are actually seeking care for their concussions than before."

    The Brain Injury Alliance will be presenting a proposal at the state capitol this week, asking for state funding that will go towards educating teachers about how to assess a student's concussion related injury.

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