I was invited to speak at an International Pediatric Brain Injury Conference that was held recently in Rome Italy. There were 500 delegates from 43 different nations, gathered together in the "Eternal City," to share the latest research and trends in this penetrating topic.
My keynote focused on the power and potency of social capital, especially for kids. We know clearly that when disability occurs, people lose much of their social capital. As friends depart, the social challenges can become more intense. Add this to the physical and cognitive issues and families can be seriously compromised. My talk and the importance of social capital went over well.
After my keynote, I had the opportunity to participate in the gathering by attending workshops and panel discussions on childhood brain injury. There were some illuminating talks. One thing I learned is the childhood injuries are on the rise, and that sports related brain injuries are one of the major culprits. I was amazed to learn that at the core of this increase is linked to kids starting contact sports at earlier ages. Football, hockey, and soccer, sports where kids can easily injure their brains, all have peewee divisions. As these kids start sooner, and practice longer, they continue to be exposed to continued aggravation to the brain.
One talk suggested that the worst blows for children to experience are ones to the side of the head. A blind side tackle, a check into the boards, or a side propelled header all can do much more intense damage to a young brain. (Actually, to any aged brain!). And researchers are clear that helmets, even more intense padding in the helmet, do not really help. Even with a helmet, the brain still floats in the cranium and the impact alone causes damage.
Now we all know that sports reign supreme, and nothing in the US is more popular than football. Young children (and their families) dream about sports success and the celebrity that this can bring. Still, we are seeing younger and younger athletes showing signs of brain injuries and one has to wonder where will it all end.
One encouraging fact is that more and more parents, given this information, are directing their children to the non-impact sports. If more and more families go in this direction, perhaps the contact sports will begin to lose favor, much like boxing has, and we will see a decline in childhood brain injury.