“Helmets both new and used are not – and have never been- formally tested against the forces believed to cause concucssions,” states a recent New York Times article.

This may be a very discomforting statement parents with children playing high impact sports requiring a helmet- especially with the increasing rate of head injuries in the sport.

So who regulates helmet safety standards? 

If you thought that there were national safety standards and requirements helmet makers are obligated to meet, think again.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, more commonly known as Nocsae, is a voluteer group who developed one helmet standard.  Nocsae not only includes, but is also financed by the helmet makers themselves. However, according to the New York Times article, Nocsae does not accept the role for ensuring that helmets meet these requirements.

The standard, which was created in the 60s and implemented in the 70s, was formed after a sginificant number of football players were killed by skull fractures and acute brain bleeding. The requirement: helemts must be able to withstand a 60-inch free fall without allowing too much force to reach the skull.

This standard has not changed in a meaningful way since 1973.  With the increase in size and speed of players since then, the standard just isn’t adequate.

What is a Traumatic Brian Injury?

According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) , a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as “a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of such an injury may range from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. A TBI can result in short or long-term problems with independent function.”

What are the Symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Some traumatic brain injuries have obvious symptoms and are easy for doctors to diagnose. For example, victims that experience coma or seizures after an accident or traumatic event are often diagnosed with a TBI. Unfortunately, it isn’t always this easy. There are a myriad of ways that a less serious brain injury can manifest itself, and if the symptoms are subtle it can be weeks or years before doctors are able to determine the problem. Often doctors aren’t the ones to notice a potential brain injury, instead friends and family members notice changes in the way the injured person acts or changes in their physical condition.

Doctors often use the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) rating to classify brain injuries for acute medical and trauma patients. The scale measures eye, verbal, and motor responses separately and ranks a patient’s response level for each. The scores for the three responses are tallied, and a value is assigned. The lowest possible score on the GCS scale is a 3, which means that the patient is in a deep coma or is deceased, and the highest score on the scale is 15, which means that the patient is fully awake.

  • Mild brain injury (GCS score greater than or equal to 13): the symptoms of a mild injury include: loss of consciousness, loss of short-term memory (events immediately before or after the accident), or an altered mental state such as dizziness, disorientation, or confusion. Typically symptoms last less than 30 minutes. Most patients who have suffered a mild brain injury will not have any major functional deficits, however there may be some subtle long-term impacts like headaches or cognitive or memory problems.
  • Moderate brain injury (GCS score between and including 9 to 12): includes memory loss after the accident that lasts for longer than 30 minutes but less than 24 hours. Also includes patients that suffer a skull fracture from the accident. Patients suffering from a moderate brain injury may suffer from long-term physical or cognitive deficits, and the success of their recovery will depend on the area of the brain that was affected by the accident. Patients will often need rehabilitation to counter the effects of a moderate brain injury.
  • Severe brain injury (GCS score less than or equal to 8): patients with a severe brain injury lose consciousness or suffer from post-accident amnesia for more than 24 hours after the accident. These kind of brain injuries can be life threatening, and patients that survive such injuries often suffer from long-term physical and cognitive impairments. The long-term prognosis for patients with severe brain injuries can vary from a vegetative state to more minor impairments, where the person can function with help. Most patients with this kind of serious injury will require extensive rehabilitation.

 
 

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