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Canada to develop National Strategy on Concussions in Youth Sports

HCBC Staff
Created: June 14, 2016

Canada should have a national approach within a year - including awareness, prevention, detection, management and surveillance

June 9, 2016
By Vicki Hall

CALGARY – Canada should have a national approach to dealing with concussions1 in youth sports within a year - including awareness, prevention, detection, management and surveillance.

Canada's provincial and territorial sports ministers announced Thursday they have agreed to develop a national plan, which should be ready for adoption when sports ministers meet next summer in Winnipeg.

The overriding goal is to ensure a kid playing soccer in Vancouver has the same safety protocols in place as a skier in Banff or a football player in Quebec City. As it stands today, concussion protocols vary wildly from province to province and city to city - even in the same sport.

"We are working to ensure that those who participate in sport and recreation activities are equally protected in each province and territory," federal sports minister Carla Qualtrough said Thursday after two days of meetings wrapped up in Lethbridge, Alta. "It breaks my heart to hear about families who have to take care of loved ones due to brain injuries or worse because of concussions."

All 50 U.S. states have laws dealing with youth concussions. In Canada, Ontario became the first on Tuesday by passing Rowan's Law in memory of 17-year-old Rowan Stringer, who died in 2013 after suffering two concussions in less than a week on the rugby pitch.

The Ontario legislation mandates the creation of a committee to determine how best to act on the 49 recommendations from the Rowan Stringer coroner's inquest.

Qualtrough said the harmonized approach announced Thursday does not preclude provinces or territories from passing their own legislation or policy. In fact, she applauded Rowan's Law and Quebec's youth concussion action plan, which was released last December.

The main objective of working together is to ensure no jurisdiction gets left behind.

"I think of the parents who learn their child had a concussion, and then it's discovered it's a third one and the first two weren't addressed," Qualtrough said. "Kids are really getting hurt, and they're getting injured when this is an injury that we could manage significantly better than we do right now."

Ricardo Miranda, Alberta's minister of culture and tourism, said he was thrilled to see the provinces and territories working together on a vital public health issue.

"We can develop an Alberta-based solution, but one that also takes into account that we want to co-ordinate with other jurisdictions so we can have common ground."

Doctors say that when it comes to safety, a formal concussion strategy is every bit as important as a helmet. Studies show concussions are three to six times more likely to be detected in an environment with a protocol in place. And the concussions that cause the most damage tend to follow the ones that go undetected when the brain is not given the proper time to heal and rest.

Thanks to $1.4 million allocated over two years in the federal budget, the Public Health Agency of Canada2 will oversee the creation of standardized return-to-learn and return-to-play protocols for use across the country. This is to be done in conjunction with work by sports ministers.

The plan is to implement the protocols through the national sports organizations, starting with ones with high incidence of concussion, such as hockey and soccer.

Dr. Pierre Fremont, chair of the Canadian Concussion Collaborative, figures the federal government could link funding to proof of following an approved concussion protocol – thus leading to compliance.

Concussions, Fremont said, must be recognized in kids' soccer games and snowboard lessons just like they are in the NHL, CFL and Olympic sports. From there, trained medical professionals can take over.

"The same principles of concussion management are applied in a very different way for Erik Guay on the World Cup tour of alpine skiing and the little ski club at Mont-Sainte-Anne, " says Fremont, past-president of the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine. "Erik Guay has a full-time physiotherapist who is qualified in concussion management with him on the road who can talk to a doctor who has neuropsychological baseline tests available for supporting decisions.

"The little ski club at Mont-Sainte-Anne has nothing. No therapists, just young adolescents or very young adults taking charge of kids for a few hours and bringing them back to the parents at the end of the day – sometimes with signs of a probable concussion. So that's what the sports environment needs – guidance on how to adapt those principles."

Qualtrough says the governments - federal, provincial and territorial – will work together to fix this.

"Concussion is something we have to address," she said. "It's not something we hide. It's not something kids are embarrassed about. It's not something coaches ignore. It's not something parents can't recognize. We basically just have to shift the way we think about concussion in sport."

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Twitter.com/vickihallch

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