Concerns about concussions lead to changes in youth sports

A new report from the Annals of Neurology found that kids who play tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have early cognitive and emotional problems.

EUGENE, Ore. - The number of players ages 5 to 14 signed up for football through Maximus Sports in Lane County has quadrupled since 2005.

"It's booming quick," coach Randy Stiles said. "Every year, it's slowly growing and now we got one of the largest leagues in the West Coast."

But this is a different way to tackle the gridiron.

"It isn't like you can tackle," Stiles said. "You just have to pull the simple flag."

And that appeals to parents.

"You learn the game," parent Shawn Lemley said, "without having, you know, the contact."

A new report from the Annals of Neurology found that kids who play tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have early cognitive and emotional problems.

Flag football reduces that risk by trying to remove head injuries from the equation.

Doctors are also working to better diagnose and treat head injuries.

Dr. Michael Koester is one of two physicians at Slocum Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine who uses a computerized test called Impact to spot a concussion.

"We're looking at the way your brain is working from a thinking perspective," he said.

Impact tests memory and reaction time, and it works best when athletes take it prior to their sports season so doctors have a baseline to compare it to if there's suspicion of a concussion.

Koester points out another discovery related to concussions: an increase in depression and anxiety.

"We're seeing that as a direct reflection of the increased concussion problem," he said.

Mental health issues can prolong concussions beyond 4 weeks, he said.

It's a statistic he hopes to see drop - just as childhood tackle sports have dropped 19 percent since 2009.

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