Long term effects of concussion highlighted in ex-rugby players, but help is available
Discussion around the risks of concussion in contact sports has recently been brought back into public consciousness, as former All Blacks Ben Afeaki and Geoff Old spoke to TVNZ’s Sunday about the long-term effects of their concussion injuries.
As a rugby nation, New Zealanders are highly susceptible to concussion. Almost 3000 ACC claims for concussion in 2019 were made by rugby players alone. But with so many injuries going undetected and untreated, the scale of this silent epidemic is considerably larger.
As reported on Sunday on TVNZ, former All Black Ben Afeaki was forced to leave his rugby career behind following a head knock in 2014. In the seven years since his injury, he has dealt with sleep problems, headaches, difficulties with bright lights and loud sounds, and fatigue. Neuropsychologist James Cunningham told the programme that he will have to deal with the effects of concussion for the rest of his life.
Cunningham has major concerns about the long-term impact for both professional and amateur rugby players in New Zealand. “There is no doubt the physicality, the power, and the speed is immense. The way the game is played now, if it continues like it is then I think we will have a huge problem in the future.”
Geoff Old, who played for the All Blacks during the famous ‘flower-bomb test’ in 1981, has no recollection of the game, and only limited memory of his 17 test matches. At the time, symptoms of concussion were largely ignored. Old’s story shows the importance of making smart decisions about personal health and getting immediate treatment.
There are a variety of symptoms that should be carefully monitored after any head-related injury or knock, including persistent headache, fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with memory, irritability, moodiness, intolerance to noise and or bright light, and reduced interest in usual activities.
Katie Hodge, General Manager for Rehabilitation at Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust says, “It is essential to visit a GP, ED or afterhours clinic as soon as possible following a suspected concussion, and make sure the injury is well documented. Ensure that your GP submits an ACC 45 to clearly identify the injury details to ACC.”
Katie adds, “At LFBIT, our medical specialist and experienced interdisciplinary team made up of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech-language therapists, neuropsychologists and clinical psychologists are available to treat all aspects of concussion injuries. We have clinics as well as community services that will travel to see people in their own home, work, or school.”
Afeaki closed his interview by urging young players to take concussion seriously. “It's pretty hard. I want younger players or players that are coming through if they feel a little bit crook after they’ve played a game or get a head knock, I want them to be confident to tell their doctors.”
Addressing the issue as soon as possible will increase the likelihood of a more positive outcome. If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of concussion, or if an injury occurs, see your GP. You can also find referral forms here: https://www.lfbit.co.nz/services/rehabilitation/concussion-services