As the school year gets underway, homework and academics are top of mind for many students. Bayhealth neurosurgeon James Mills, MD, cautions that what happens outside the classroom is just as important when it comes to brain health.“Many of our concussion patients are students who have sustained brain trauma from a fall or collision,” Mills said. “Once the immediate threat is past, patients often face a long road back to full functionality. The sooner we see concussion patients, the sooner they can return to sports and other extracurricular activities, not to mention class.”
According to Mills, the key to concussion recovery is knowing the symptoms and seeking treatment when concussion is suspected. Headache, confusion, and memory loss are three signs to look for.
“If you experience these symptoms, or your friend does, stop the activity and have your condition evaluated by a medical professional. Concussion symptoms will not go away on their own,” said Mills.
While many adults may remember brushing off sports injuries when they were younger, advances in brain science and a greater understanding of brain injury have led to a culture change in the concussion field. In addition, former college and professional athletes have filed lawsuits against the N.C.A.A., N.F.L., and other organizations asserting that they were not adequately informed of or protected against the risk of long-term damage related to brain trauma, or concussion.
The shift in public opinion is a positive change, said Mills. Athletes, coaches, and parents are now partners in raising awareness of concussion symptoms. Although football is often the first sport that comes to mind with brain injury, Mills points out that soccer, softball, cheerleading, theater and other activities are just as risky, because they all present a potential for falls or collisions.
With the addition of Lake Forest High School in 2013, Bayhealth’s Neurosciences Service Line now provides Immediate Post-Concussion and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) to all public Kent County high schools. The testing program provides an objective measure of cognitive ability using a pre-season reading as the baseline. Should injury occur, the athlete retakes the test and the data is used to determine an appropriate treatment plan.
While the ImPACT testing is optional for student athletes, many teams have 100% participation, and Mills says the overall numbers are growing. He finds that students are eager to protect themselves from the long-term effects of brain trauma.
According to Angela Downs, Bayhealth Sports Medicine Physical Therapist and ImPACT coordinator with the school system, “Implementing ImPACT testing in the high schools has provided physicians with an additional component to assess an athletes’ ability to return to play.”
Bayhealth is also turning the focus inward when it comes to healing the brain. A new Neuro Intensive Care Unit is due to open in the first half of calendar year 2014 at Bayhealth Kent General. The space will accommodate patients recovering from neurosurgery procedures as well as other neurological diagnoses requiring neurosurgery oversight.
“Our neurological patients will benefit from having a dedicated area for healing and surgical recovery,” Mills said. “They will have private rooms with specialized nursing and rehab care. The goal is to have the same highly skilled multidisciplinary staff providing the patient-centered care throughout their hospital stay at Bayhealth.”
The unit will feature seven patient rooms organized around a central nurses’ station. Mills worked closely with the architects, nursing leadership and neurosciences service line administration to create a space designed to meet the unique needs of neuro patients and their families.
Bayhealth Kent General’s Operating Room 10, opened in Spring 2013, is customized for complex neurosurgery, spine, and orthopaedic procedures.
To learn more about our neurosurgery program, visit bayhealth.org. To make an appointment with Dr. Mills, call 302-526-1470.