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Institute of Medicine Launches Youth-Sports Concussion Study

With concern over sports-related concussions continuing to rise, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council publicly launched a study about youth-sports concussions this week in response to a request from U.S. Senate members.

A committee chaired by Dr. Robert Graham, a research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, will review the risk factors and long-term consequences of youth-sports concussions. The group will also look at screening, diagnosis, treatment, and management of concussions, according to the project's website, among other topics.

Morgan Ford, a senior program officer at the institute, will head up the study, which will include military personnel and their dependents.

The committee held its first open meeting on Monday afternoon in the District of Columbia to hear from the study sponsors, who include Catherine A. Brennan from the National Athletic Trainers' Association and Ramona Hicks from the National Institutes of Health.

"You start talking about, 'Is it safe for Sally to be playing soccer?,' you get lots of public interest," said Graham in an interview with Reuters.

He told Reuters that the group plans to submit its report to the Institute mid-summer and expects to see their work published in late 2013.

The committee's report will include recommendations to specific organizations (both governmental and nongovernmental) on what factors to consider when determining whether an athlete has sustained a concussion. The National Football League provided funding for the study to the CDC Foundation, according to the project's website.

The group's next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25-26 at the National Academy of Sciences building in the District of Columbia.

Research continues to emerge about the potential ramifications of sports-related concussions, but here's a sampling of findings from the past year:

• Teenagers (ages 13-16) feel the effects of concussions more severely than younger children (ages 9-12) and adults, according to a February 2012 study from the Université de Montréal;

• Unlike in high school and college football, the hardest hits for youth-football players typically occur during practice, according to a joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest study released in February;

• Certain contact sports, such as football and ice hockey, may hinder some student-athletes' ability to learn and remember new information, suggested a study published in the journal Neurology in May;

• The number of youth concussions diagnosed in emergency rooms has more than doubled over the past 10 years, according to a study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in May; and

• Months after sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury such as a concussion, the changes in a child's brain persist even if the child is symptom-free, according to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience in December.

There's no readily available national data about how many youth-athletes suffer concussions annually, but nearly 3,000 middle and high school student-athletes in Massachusetts suffered sports-related concussions during the 2011-12 school year, according to data from the state health department.

On a somewhat related note: ESPN reported today that Junior Seau, a former NFL player who committed suicide in May, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can lead to dementia and depression. Seau's ex-wife and oldest son told ABC News and ESPN that doctors informed the family last week about the diagnosis.

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