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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Concussion and Brain Injury
60-Second Mind

Hockey and Concussions

Researchers are asking hockey players to give up their brains to study the long-term impact of concussions. Christie Nicholson reports

Hockey players give up their bodies to stop the puck. Now researchers are asking hockey players to give up their brains. After they die, of course. It's part of the expanding effort to better understand the consequences of concussions in contact sports. 

For example, studies have shown that NFL players who have had three or more concussions were at significantly higher risk for clinical depression as well as for cognitive impairment, of the sort linked to Alzheimer’s.

And now the Krembil Neuroscience Center in Canada is asking NHL and minor league hockey players for their postmortem gray matter. The scientists want to answer several questions, like why female hockey players sustain more concussions than males. They also want to confirm the suspected link between major head impacts and a dementia that emerges long after players retire. This is similar to Alzheimer’s where it affects not only memory but personality too. 

Scientists have very little data on children, so the University of Toronto is focusing on hockey players between 10 and 14 years, according to a recent article in the The Globe and Mail.

Youth hockey players have started to wear the same type of helmet sensors as some football teams. High schools in the U.S. have been using Head Impact Telemetry System technology in football helmets, where six battery powered sensors record the location, force, duration and direction of an impact and send the information wirelessly to a lap top on the sidelines. Concussion researcher Steven Broglio has found that players suffer up to 50 blows in one game, some with the same force of a car crash.

Using such sensors is how a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina concluded that the severity of impacts in hockey were as strong as those in football. Although just watching the vicious ice fights of the Saskatoon Blades' Darcy Hordichuk on YouTube might convince anyone of that. That guy sometimes loses his head, eh.  

—Christie Nicholson

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