Are we finally waking up to the potential impact of concussion? | Fieldfisher
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Are we finally waking up to the potential impact of concussion?

Adam Curry
A concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) is described by the British Medical Journal as a head injury due to a direct blow to the head or deceleration of the head from an impulsive force that results in a change in mental status.

The long-term consequences of a MTBI can be devastating. Symptoms of headaches, impaired memory, dizziness and concentration (among others) following an MTBI can significantly affect people's quality of life and have a devastating impact on their relationships. We certainly represent clients whose whole personality has changed following brain injury.

Because the symptoms of MTBI are often subtle, until recently, the recognised medical approach has tended to be reactive rather proactive.

But the recent publication of the concussion guidance for grassroots sport from the Department of Culture and Sport suggests that the Government may finally be waking up to the issue. The message  ‘if in doubt sit them out’ is a proactive one that may generate greater vigilance in grassroots sport to protect long-term brain damage following a MTBI,  with the recommendation that ‘no-one should return to competition, training or PE lessons within 24 hours of a suspected concussion.’ 

Importantly, the guidance emphasises that a concussion is a brain injury due to a disturbance of brain function that affects the way a person is thinking, feeling and remembering information. This should help protect children particularly when their brain is going through a crucial stage of development.

Sadly, the emergence of guidance and safeguarding measures has been too little too late for some. Over the last few years the sporting world has been shocked by headlines of former elite rugby players, such as England World Cup winning rugby player Steve Thompson being diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He is an example of an elite competitor who has taken many blows to the head over his lifetime whilst competing at the very highest level. The silent epidemic is not just limited to the sporting world.

The serious injury team represents many clients who have suffered MTBIs leaving devastating long-lasting symptoms following a road traffic collision or workplace incident. These cases require a forensic approach to analyse the long-term consequences and to navigate the symptoms often hidden to the outside world.

The subtlety of MTBIs make brain injury claims cases incredibly complex, often taking  many years to investigate before they can be settled or presented to a judge at a civil trial. It is imperative to fully diagnose each client's individual needs to ensure they receive the right medical treatment and rehabilitation package.

To demonstrate the existence of a MTBI in a brain injury claim, specialist Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans for indicators such as microhaemorrhages on the brain are reviewed. Experts including neurologists, neuropsychologists and neuropsychiatrists are frequently instructed to assist the court with an understanding of the long-term consequences and management of these complex injuries.

When preparing a case, it is crucial that detailed witness statements are obtained from family, friends and work colleagues to capture information about changes to the individual that have been noticed as result of the MTBI. These changes could be personality changes or changes in memory and processing ability which may be having a direct impact on decision-making and performance at work.

Persistent post-concussive symptoms lasting more than 30 days after injury are reported by approximately 30% of children and adults. As scientific data evolve, there is a growing understanding of these injuries and how they occur. While education reinforced by emerging scientific data is important, so is the language adopted.

Following a blow to the head in a school rugby match, say, the description of a 'mild traumatic brain injury' is more helpful at the side of the pitch than 'just a bit of concussion'. Taken seriously, awareness and recognition of the risks of serious injury mean appropriate treatment is offered earlier – often a huge decider as to how well a person will recover.

Read more about our brain injury claims and hear from clients.

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