Experts Warn Football Players of New Concussion Risks - FOX 10 News |

Experts Warn Football Players of New Concussion Risks


As the NFL prepares to enact tougher concussion rules for the 2011 season -- provided there is one -- a brain-imaging expert warned Thursday that the league should be on guard for shady player head games.

Dr. Daniel Amen, who has treated current and former players for post-concussion symptoms, said some of his clients have confessed to fudging the initial baseline tests administered by NFL teams. By doing so, Amen said those players are seeking quicker clearance to return from any future head injuries they might suffer.

Amen is prevented from disclosing names because of patient-doctor confidentiality.

Baseline testing is the crux of the NFL's new "go/no-go" concussion policy. Any player who suffers a head injury must now pass a six to eight-minute test that measures such elements as cognitive thinking, memory, concentration and balance.

Those results are then compared to how the player scored in the preseason to determine clearance for an in-game return.

"Players are smart. They know that if they have a concussion and score badly that, 'I'm going to be taken out. It's going to affect my livelihood,' " Amen said. "I've had a number of players tell me they purposely do bad on the testing to start so if they get a concussion it doesn't affect them.

"We need to educate them that this is a really dumb idea, that it's the rest of their life that they're playing with."

Another potential form of cheating is the use of Ritalin to pass a concussion test. The drug, which is intended for those suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), changes brain chemistry and may serve as a short-term mask for concussion symptoms.

A story at anonymously quotes one concussion expert as saying that NFL players are already using Ritalin for this purpose.

"Ritalin will work," Amen said. "It helps boost activity to the front part of the brain. In my mind, it's not the first thing I would do to rehabilitate a concussion but it would be on the list of things to do.

"Clearly, it's not approved by the NFL or a smart thing to do and try to cheat the test."

A mental health practitioner and founder of the Amen Clinic, Amen began treating brain-damaged retired NFL players in the late 1990s. One of his recent clients is FOX Sports NFL analyst Terry Bradshaw, who recently revealed that he is feeling the effects of concussions suffered during his playing days with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Amen conducts a nuclear imaging test known as a SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) that provides a detailed look at the brain's blood-flow activity and any possible damage incurred. Amen also offers individual suggestions to promote healing such as supplements, change of diet, and physical and mental activity.

Although the validity of his work has come under scrutiny from some members of the scientific community, Amen did have a study of 100 former and current NFL players covering 27 teams and all positions published earlier this year by the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. Amen's self-funded research showed consistent maligned brain function among players compared to the regular populace.

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