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News pages, sports websites, TV shows, and cinema screens are littered with concussion talk. Much of it centers on football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that affects people who have suffered repeated head trauma, such as former NFL players.
Ice hockey, a contact sport played at equally high speeds by players who zip around a surface less forgiving than grass or artificial turf, is often lost in the shuffle.
Researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette believe the ice is fertile ground for mining data about concussions. They have partnered with the Louisiana IceGators, the city’s minor league hockey team, to focus on “that other contact sport,” according to Dr. Randy Aldret, director for UL Lafayette’s athletic training program and an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology.
Aldret views hockey with a unique perspective. In addition to his roles at the University, he is an avid hockey fan, and the husband of an IceGators team physician, Dr. Stephanie Aldret.
The couple are leading a study that they hope will yield a clearer understanding about a subject medical professionals and scientists know relatively little about. “Concussions are like snowflakes. They’re different for everybody,” explained Randy Aldret.
The severity of concussions, which the Mayo Clinic defines as a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions, can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms— headaches, nausea, dizziness, light sensitivity, altered sleep patterns, blurred vision, seizures, memory loss, impaired motor skills, trouble concentrating, and personality changes—can vary greatly from person to person and injury to injury.
The study will examine physiology and neurocognitive function in more than 20 IceGators. The players have agreed to be evaluated before, during, and after the season, which began in October and ends in April.
The study will measure a range of factors, including cognition, balance, and sleep patterns, with a battery of established tests, including MRIs. Players also will submit blood samples, since levels of certain proteins in the blood are elevated with a brain injury.
The hope is to add to a growing body of knowledge about head injuries that could assist in prevention, and acute and long-term care for athletes and the general population.
Stephanie Aldret said even for players who don’t suffer a concussion, the research will provide a framework for potential determinations about repeated “micro traumas” experienced by athletes throughout a season.
“We don’t know exactly what the repetitive small traumas cause, what the longer lasting effect is,” she explained.
IceGators goaltender Brad Barone, 25, a first-year pro from Medfield, Mass., who played at Boston College, is participating in the study for several reasons, including his own long-term health and to help others.
“You play the game and you assume the risk,” Baron explained, “but you want to make sure you’re doing all you can so that down the road you’re healthy. And you want to make sure that you leave this planet a little bit better for having been here.”
Photo: UL Lafayette's Dr. Randy Aldret, right, works with Brad Barone, a goaltender for the Louisiana IceGators who is participating in a concussion study. Players have agreed to be evaluated before, during, and after the season. Researchers want to add to a growing body of knowledge about head injuries that could assist in prevention, and acute and long-term care for athletes and the general population.