Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The football fix

No jaw, no mouthpiece, no brain.
Football fever is here, with the San Francisco 49ers headed for the Super Bowl. People are dressing themselves and buildings and whatever else in red.

The other day kids were throwing footballs across the street, over passing cars. We used to do that. Little known fact: I can throw a spiral pass, because my older brother wanted a younger brother and instead got me.

The NFL is taking a tobacco-industry tack to defend itself against the brain injury stories. It says the latest developments mean we need to do more research on CTE. To show their sincerity they donated $30 million last year to CTE research. You can almost feel the strategy sessions that must be taking place.

This is foot-dragging because it could not be more clear there's a problem. When brain autopsies of 33 out of 34 former players show signs of CTE, pull the emergency brake. Don't just call for more research. It's a moral crisis, people.

Meanwhile, big progress elsewhere:
  • Alzheimer's diagnostic techniques can now be used to find CTE in living brains. A radioactive substance is injected, then a SPECT scan looks for tau proteins.
  • Stanford University, in love with football AND academics, has come up with a way to objectively measure the force on a player's brain from a hit. The players wear special mouthpieces with sensors that record the force of a hit. So far the data is startling.
These two basically unfunded efforts could blow the NFL's strategy to smithereens. If every college and pro player gets a diagnostic scan, how many new cases of CTE are they going to find? My bet, not a small number.

As more players use the new mouthpieces with sensors, lots more data will suddenly be available. I'm looking forward to what the data will show. Do we think it will support the NFL view that football is mostly safe?

Then consider the possibilities for non-players. Maybe the crash test dummy will get a brain and a jaw. (These are the actual heads you can order for your crash test dummy today.) Then NHTSA could measure the forces on the brain when linear acceleration changes to angular acceleration. As it does in a real car accident. As it probably did in my case.

Future Headforms

As dummies are pushed further toward measuring non-contact, closed head injuries there may be development in the area of simulating the soft tissue in the head. This will require the application of clinical research and tissue characterization to the development of the heads.
With more data on car accidents will insurance companies still get away with delaying and denying the effects of brain injury? Over a million cases of mild TBI, every year in this country. Mmm mmm mmm mmm, expensive.

This Super Bowl Sunday I'll be doing what I always do: riding a bike, tending my brain.


  1. I'm attending a Super Bowl party because I was promised there would be a quilting corner, and I have an unfinished project.
    It's only a moral crisis because a terrible situation happens to be profitable. That Stanford study is a fantastic idea, though, and I hope it spreads.

    1. OMG that is SO key... it's profit that drives the questionable moral behavior. We define profit in such narrow terms ($$) and power follows that. It finds that narrow little gap and rushes right in. Power resists discovering the truth, resists change. We turn the other way.

      After writing this I thought, it's almost time for a post on How Your Brain Injury is Really About Money. Obviously it's the money that drives the insurance company behavior. They delay because most people have no $ buffer to wait for them or pay a lawyer. Money drives the experts to support the insurance companies. Dr H. said that the board certified neurologist. the one who wrote I must not have a brain injury because it wasn't visible on the MRI? That dr. earns a 4x salary because of his consulting work. The 4x number apparently buys an outright lie about what an MRI can show.

      Money drove behavior at work. The family drama, money. The hope seems to be that you'll just quietly fade away and magically absorb the costs. The lost income is a private matter, your problem to solve. The world moves on. With your job goes the health insurance! The osteopath costs a lot of $$. Hearing aids $$$. HBOT $$$. Speech therapy. Gym dues, extra $ on training. Bike gear and trips $$. I lose stuff regularly - it takes $ to replace it.

      Brain injury is about loss. Initially anyway. It's a freaking financial avalanche.

    2. 4 times?! Jeez, I knew consulting work was lucrative, but I had no idea it was THAT much.
      I guess time really is money - their money. Or them keeping yours (premiums). The optimist in me wants to think they're just really busy but... no, it's the money.