Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013 | 6:35 a.m.
As the long-term effects of sports-related hits and brain trauma continue to make recent headlines, Cleveland Clinic is teaming with the National Football League Players Association to assess and improve the brain health and well-being of retired NFL athletes.
The NFLPA program, the Trust, will offer physical and neurological evaluations to ex-NFL players, followed by a plan to relieve symptoms, restore function, improve cognitive skills and slow neurodegeneration for individuals who have sustained head trauma.
Cleveland Clinic will treat players at three sites — at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in downtown Las Vegas, on its main campus in Cleveland and at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston. Players also can visit the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Tulane University in New Orleans.
“Athletic injuries and sports-related brain trauma have become part of the public consciousness and are being viewed as legitimate public-health problems,” said Dr. Jay Alberts, director of Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center, in a news release. “Former NFL players, in particular, are at increased risk for neurological disease. The goal of this program is to identify potential problems — physical, neurological or cognitive — earlier, which may lead to earlier interventions and treatments.”
Participants will begin with a medical history and exam that will include the player’s injuries, functional symptoms and personal concerns. The program will include a brain scan with a functional MRI, cognitive evaluations, psychological interviews, balance assessments, cardiovascular evaluations, a prostate screening, nutrition counseling and life-skills consultation.
“The cumulative effect of repeated collisions and brain trauma are now recognized as major factors in declining health — mental and physical — among retired athletes who participated in contact sports,” said Dr. Charles Bernick, associate medical director at the Lou Ruvo Center in Symphony Park.
“These injuries can have lifelong ramifications, manifesting as cognitive impairment, decreased motor functioning, incessant pain and psychological/behavioral issues such as irritability, impaired insight and impulse control, paranoia, violent outbursts and even suicide. By taking a proactive approach, this program is helping retired players be assessed, diagnosed and treated before symptoms arise.”
After their visits, players will be given short- and long-term treatment plans. The plan will include continuing communication between the player and his health-care team. “If problems arise, we can bring them in before they become too serious,” Alberts said. “Each player will leave here with their own neurological passport that outlines exactly where they are cognitively and neurologically. If changes occur after they go home, we can intervene.”
In addition to the Trust, Cleveland Clinic has been at the forefront of concussion treatment and research, developing the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Assessment System (C3), an iPad app offering an assessment of concussion symptoms, including a symptoms checklist, cognitive/memory testing, reaction-time testing and vestibular/balance testing.
Cleveland Clinic researchers also are developing an intelligent mouth guard and a blood test to assess concussions; studying designs for better youth football helmets in association with NFL charities; and working with the Nevada Athletic Commission on a study with pro fighters to determine whether MRIs of the brain can detect changes that correlate with impaired thinking and functioning.
The Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center offers concussion evaluations and management that includes primary-care sports medicine physicians, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, certified athletic trainers, vestibular therapists, radiologists, neuro-ophthalmologists and researchers.
NFLPA members interested in more information from Cleveland Clinic should call (216) 445-9815. NFLPA members can learn more about the Trust at PlayersTrust.com and by calling (202) 212-6180 and (866) 725-0063.
Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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