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Houston concussion center gets grant from NFL and National Institutes of Health

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

With Super Bowl XLVIII just around the corner, you can't help but think about the health of your favorite player out on the field. Concussions are a serious problem that have especially come to light with the recent lawsuit against the NFL.

It involves more than 4,500 former players, accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. A federal judge put the settlement on hold, totaling almost 800-million dollars. He says that's not enough money to help all of the players.

The settlement would help cover claims for players with neurological symptoms, baseline testing, medical research and education about the impact of concussions.

The NFL and National Institutes of Health, or NIH, recently formed a partnership for research, which includes a grant to the Concussion Program at Memorial Hermann's Ironman Institute. They treat all types of athletes, not just NFL players, even though it's those high-paid players who are known for really making tough moves on the gridiron. Doctors believe those blows to the head are causing permanent brain damage. Studies show it can lead to everything from depression to dementia. Dr. Summer Ott is a Neuropsychologist who says it's not just a football issue! "The long-term consequences can happen with too many concussions in any type of sport. Long-term consequences like cognitive issues, change in personality, a change in the way someone responds to the fact they no longer play a sport they love," says Dr. Ott.

Former Denver Bronco's player, Nate Jackson, no longer plays the sport he loves, but he easily remembers the consequences of it. He suffered multiple concussions and injuries to almost every part of his body. "It's hard to diagnose concussions, so it's hard to say how many I've had. Football players are taught to be tough - keep your symptoms to yourself! It's a head first, head forward game. You're always leading with your head," exclaims Nate.

It can be tough to diagnose a concussion, but Dr. Ott offers imPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. It's the first, computerized evaluation system for concussions and is widely used in the NFL. Not much new, as for treatment, though. "The treatment hasn't changed. Just rest is the most important thing. Giving brain appropriate rest and see a concussion expert. The other important thing is we need to make sure we integrate them back into work and school," Dr. Ott explains.

She gave us a tour of the gym at Memorial Hermann Ironman Institute, where they also help patients who've suffered a concussion. She's excited about Memorial Hermann's new grant from the NFL & NIH and hopes to learn more about concussions and try to help future players with this valuable information. "Our study is a pilot study. We're looking at bio-markers, the way an athlete's blood looks pre and post concussion and if that predicts long-term consequences, but most importantly - our study focuses on the way an athlete who are medically cleared at one month post-concussion, we're looking at the way their brain structure is, so we're putting them through MRI and sophisticated imaging to look for microscopic changes that might predict their vulnerability for a re-injury," says Dr. Ott.

Nate believes the NFL should compensate former players for their pain and suffering! However, he admits, many players never seek help for a concussion in the first place. "If a guy says my head hurts, they're going to pull them off the field, they're going to replace him and if that somebody else does a better job than him, he'll never step foot on the field again because of a concussion. There is an incentive to keeping those symptoms to yourself. I did it, and everyone else does it, so the head injury issue is a difficult one to get at," says Nate.

New helmets using sensors are the latest development. Dr. Ott hopes this will help coaches take a look at players who are tackling incorrectly, then they can make changes in the way they play, to help prevent serious head injuries.

For more information about the Ironman Institute in Houston, you can call: 713-704-9647 or log onto http://ironman.memorialhermann.org.

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