In the weeks after the suicide of former pro linebacker Junior Seau, scrutiny over the safety of football and other contact sports has been growing tremendously. From new protective equipment to player screening tests, brain trauma and concussion prevention has begun to receive the attention most experts believe it deserves.
The Guardian Football Helmet Cap
NBC Sports has reported on a new device which is promoted by the manufacturer as a way to protect football players against concussion during practice. The article explains that “The Guardian is a cap that attaches to the outside of the helmet, with extra padding that reduces the intensity of helmet impacts.”
The manufacturer says that for the moment, the safety device is designed to protect players in practice, where they claim 90 percent of concussions take place. In addition to providing another level of concussion protection, this device pops free after major collisions, indicating that the player needs to be checked for a concussion.
So far the company is marketing the device to younger players, not pros or college athletes. However, if these devices do prove tremendously effective at preventing injuries, the next logical step will be to implement their use in youth and high school games as well.
Alzheimer’s Gene Screening
Scientists have long known that two specific forms of a gene we all carry add an increased lifetime risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, researchers have also discovered that soldiers and violent sport athletes are more likely to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) if they have one of the forms of this gene linked to greater Alzheimer’s disease risks.
MSNBC explains that this gene is known as APOE and it comes in three different forms. Those with the E4 form have a three times greater lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s. For those with two copies of this E4 gene, there is a 15-fold increase in the risk for developing this disease.
As a result, some scientists have proposed the idea of screening young athletes for these genes, thus enabling parents to keep high-risk children from sports that deliver the traumatic hits that lead to CTE. At the moment, the article explains that the majority of doctors do not yet support this screening for high school students or military recruits.
However, MSNBC points out that few have “dismissed the ideas out of hand.” Until scientists learn how they can prevent Alzheimer’s or that the risks for these individuals are “overwhelming,” though, this testing is likely to remain optional.
The article points out that some of the ethical dilemmas of burdening young adults and teens with the knowledge that they face an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease can put tremendous strain on them and their families, as well as leading to “a lifetime of difficulty in getting health and life insurance.”