How Western University aims to reduce sports-related concussions

Despite the celebrity-association with sports-related concussions (cue Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros) there continues to be a lot of misunderstanding about the injury.

 April 23, 2011:  Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green (#52) lays on the ice after being hit in the head with the puck during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals NHL playoff series at Verizon Center against the New York Rangers.
photo credit: clydeorama via photopin cc

In fact, of the 100,000 concussions which occur in Canada each year, more than half happen while people are playing sports. In the U.S., concussion rates among high school students doubled from 2005 to 2012.

Now Western University, which has long been a leader in concussion research and awareness through its See the Line initiative, has joined forces with the Sports Legacy Institute in the U.S.. Their partnership aims to further enhance research and programs to reduce the “concussion crisis” in sports.

According to CHCH, new programs will include advanced concussion training and a ‘brain and brawn’ camp for athletes. An existing program out of Wilfred Laurier University, where athletes educate others in the community about concussion, will continue.

Former CFL player Tim Fleiszer, now the executive director of  the Sports Legacy Institute Canada, told am980, “… This is a big step towards solving the concussion crisis in Canada.”

Cheerleaders performing
photo credit: Michi Moore Images via photopin cc

The timing couldn’t be better. New research shows that concussions happen across the board in sports, not just in the seemingly accident-prone hockey, football and boxing the injury is associated with. In particular, there are high rates of concussions in competitive cheerleading (imagine what happens when you’re being thrown 20-feet in the air by your teammates), women’s soccer and lacrosse – the fastest growing high school sport in the States.

According to Dr. Robert Harbaugh, director of the Penn State Institute of the Neurosciences and chair of the department of neurosurgery, research shows that concussions are the result of a rotation of the head on the neck. Because of this, injuries are more likely to occur when players run into each other as opposed to when they are hit on the head by a ball.

According to Dr. Harbaugh and reported in, concussions are more frequent in women’s soccer, especially amongst children and teenagers, because men and boys have more neck muscle than women and girls.

woman soccer player injured
photo credit: Alana Holmberg via photopin cc

As Crosby told the Globe and Mail in 2013,  “Concussions are still kind of a mysterious thing. We do know a lot more now, but there are still things that we can learn and hopefully ways and methods we can learn to either heal or to find out more about the actual extent of the injuries.”

Hopefully this new partnership will solve some of the concussion mystery, and crisis.

See the Line

London Health Sciences Foundation


Sources: CHCH +


BIST’s summer fun + water safety reminder

Nothing beats hanging out by the water during hot, lazy summer days.

young family sitting in a lake

It’s easy to feel free and relaxed. And you should.

But it’s also important to remember the hard facts, that more people die from drowning in Ontario than anywhere else in Canada. Certain groups are at increased risk, especially two to four-year-olds, adults 60 and over, people who have lived in Canada for five years or less and men 18 to 49-years-old.

As most people connected with BIST know, surviving a near-drowning doesn’t guarantee things will be easy from then on. Brain damage can occur after the body has been deprived of oxygen for four to five minutes, which makes water safety a crucial component of summer-fun.

Here are some tips to remember when you’re out:

  • Two to four-year-olds are the highest risk group for drowning in the under-five age bracket, and these drownings usually occur near the water. The problem: curious little ones fall into water (such as an outdoor pool) they’ve wandered into in the brief moments their parents aren’t looking. Adults aren’t paying attention, because no one is actually swimming, they’re just near the water. Lack of adult supervision is the biggest risk factor that leads to young children drowning.
  • Young and mid-life men are at increased risk of drowning, particularly due to these at-risk behaviours: consuming alcohol while out in the water, not using a PFD (personal flotation device) when boating, going out in cold, rough waters and being out after dark. Another risk factor: going out on the water alone.
people swimming in an outdoor pool
  • New Canadians, especially folks who have been in the country for five years or less are four times more likely to be unable to swim than people born in Canada. Meanwhile, most people in this group consider swimming to be a very safe activity for themselves and their children.
  • Older adults can be at-risk of drowning if they suffer a medical condition while in the water, such as a heart attack. They may also be at risk if they do not modify activities they did when they were younger,  such as swimming across a small lake, that they’re no longer able to do. At the same time, not wearing a PFD, consuming alcohol while out on the water and going out alone are all risk factors which lead to drowning.
man and girl in a boat wearing life jackets

It’s important to reminder that drowning is a quiet, hard-to-notice event.

A young child can silently slip under the water in the bath, something a parent in another room wouldn’t notice. And most drowning victims can’t call out for help.

This video shows someone drowning in a crowded swimming area, while no one but the lifeguard notices:

 Here’s how to stay safe:

  • Watch kids all the time – especially when you’re near water but not necessarily swimming. That means if there’s a party at the beach or a pool, someone should be ‘assigned’ to watch the young children at all times. Take shifts, so everyone can have grown up fun and keep the kids safe.
  • Don’t swim or boat alone.
  • Wear a life jacket every time you’re in a boat.
  • If you’ve consumed drugs or alcohol, don’t go in the water.
  • Little kids who are not strong swimmers should wear PDFs.
  • Kids under five should not be further away than an arm’s reach from an adult.

Learn how to swim!

Learning how to swim is one of the best things you can do to keep you and your family safe in the water. Free or low-cost lessons are available from the City of Toronto – including lessons for adults. So dive in (safely) and have fun!

Sources: Life Saving Society + Ontario Medical Association

Brain dancing with Annemarie Cabri

annemarie1-1At a BIST community meeting last month, Annemarie Cabri, founder of Cabri Creative Dance, led BIST members through the steps of “BrainDance.” She took part in a Q&A with BIST to explain the benefits of dance for our brains.

BIST: Can you describe what “brain compatible dance” is?

Annemarie Cabri: A brain-compatible dance class is a method using 10 basic principles developed around the neuroscience findings of how the brain learns best.

One of the principles is that we physically ‘DO’ the lesson for high-lesson retention and high engagement for all learners and abilities. A traditional dance class has a focus on learnt steps, teacher-driven delivery, with little directed exploration and self-found expression. These would be the opposite in a brain-compatible class where discovering self-expression, movement exploration, student-driven exercises and a multi-sensory environment are present.

In our culture we tend to separate things we do for our body, from things we do for our mind, and both from things we do for our soul or emotional health. A brain-compatible dance class can address all of these in one.

BIST: Has there been a proven benefit to dance for people with acquired brain injuries? Can you describe some of these benefits? What is it about dance that helps with brain function?

Cabri: Yes, dance that incorporates the work done by neurological reorganization has benefits for people who have been hit by a car, spinal cord injury, memory and cognitive problems, stroke victim, post traumatic stress, head injury from industrial accident and the list goes on from small children to people in their nineties.

Movement has benefits to better learning as described here :

‘Every time we move in an organized, graceful manner, full brain activation and integration occurs, and the door to learning opens naturally. Howard Gardner, Jean Ayres, Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, Moshe Feldenkreis, Glenn Dolamn, and many other outstanding innovators in the field of learning espouse the importance of movement to the learning process’ (Hannaford).

So once we are learning, we are living fully, are able to engage successfully, and keep our whole body healthy. This learning can take place in dance.

Click here to see Cabri teaching Brain Dance to students.

Dance taught in a brain-compatible method combined with BrainDance goes one step further, helping with brain function as it can address issues in the lower brain, mid-brain and upper brain. Our lower brain function controls circulation, respiration, breathing, heart rate, wake and sleep patterns which can be improved with dance. The mid-brain is known as the emotional and social brain, stimulating or inhibiting activity in other parts of the brain. Dance helps with this stimulation or control of stimulation increasing emotional social intelligence. Memory is also increased in dance which is governed by the hippocampus in the mid-brain. The upper brain among other things will be exercised in creativity, problem solving, verbal expression and planning all found within a brain-compatible dance class.

BIST: Is this a routine you recommend people do everyday? Can it be done on their own?

Cabri: Yes, BrainDance is the sequence I do in every class at the beginning, taking us through a full-bodied movement series that benefits brain activation. The BrainDance is a rich multi-layered warm-up that sets the tone for the entire brain-compatible dance class. The video is somewhat flat and two dimensional (which is not so brain-compatible) and not very full-bodied, but gives people the wording and basics. People attending my workshop might remember we started our BrainDance on chairs and then moved all around the room including some partner work.

The BrainDance was developed by Anne Green Gilbert as well as brain-compatible dance education.

You can do the BrainDance once or many times a day to boost and awaken or settle and de-stress activity to the brain. I know these are complete opposites but such is the case.

To benefit further of course would be to do the BrainDance in a brain-compatible class where group work, on-going variations, tactile stimulation through the use of props and partner work is explored. Anyone with a brain injury of any kind would do well to learn the BrainDance on the floor version.

I am passionate about why this method touches people in a way that many exercise and therapy programs do not.

I love seeing in my classes the power of quality arts education where the sciences meet the arts.

Find out more about Annemarie Cabri at her personal website.

The Paralympics: athletes with a challenge

Frank Bruno.

By Richard Haskell

How many of you sat with your eyes glued to the television for two weeks watching the events of the 2014 Winter Olympics unfold? If not, did any of you have more than a passing interest in the event and watched at least some of it? No matter how you may have felt, it was a roller-coaster ride for many Canadians, 14 days of joys and a few disappointments. And it wasn’t just about the golds, silvers and bronzes, even though they were a big part of it. How could we ever forget the great acts of kindness, such as speed skater Gilmore Junio giving up his place for Denny Morrison, who went on to win silver. Or cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth, who came to the aid of Russian skier Anton Gafarov.

With all its hype and glamour, it may be easy to forget that there’s another Olympics being held in Sochi, maybe less well known, but in no way any less important – the 2014 Paralympics, opening in Sochi tomorrow. The Paralympic Games had their origins in post-war Britain, when a doctor by the name of Ludwig Guttman organized competitions for a group of 400 British veterans with spinal cord injuries. During the past sixty-five years, it’s grown into an international multi-sport event involving athletes with a wide range of physical and intellectual disabilities.

History and Background

Shortly after the initial games were held in Britain, a similar event was organized in – of all places – Toronto – where different disability groups were added. The name was originally an amalgamation of the words “paraplegic” and “Olympic.” Nevertheless, since that initial connotation, the term now stems from the Greek παρά, parámeaning “beside” or “alongside,” an indication that the games take place immediately following the Olympics – and since 1988, have used the same facilities. The first official Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960 and featured 400 athletes from 23 countries – a considerable contrast to the 2004 event in Athens, which featured more than 3,800 athletes from 136 countries. The games are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), a non-profit global governing body founded in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1989 and whose mandate is “to enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.”

There are currently six classifications of disability which apply to both the summer and winter Paralympics. These are:

Amputee: Athletes with a partial or total loss of at least one limb.

Cerebral Palsy: Athletes with non-progressive brain damage, i.e. cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke or similar disabilities affecting muscle control, balance or coordination.

Intellectual Disability: Athletes with a significant impairment in intellectual ability and limitations in adaptive behavior.

Wheelchair: Athletes with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities which require the use of a wheelchair in order to compete.

Visually Impaired: Athletes with varying degrees of visual impairment ranging from partial vision, to total blindness.

Other Categories: Athletes with a physical disability that does not fall under any of the five divisions such as dwarfism, MS, or congenital deformities such as those caused by thalidomide.

The Canadian Connection

Canada has taken part in every summer and winter Paralympic Games since 1968. That year, the games were held in Tel Aviv, Israel, where 22 wheelchair athletes participated among 750 from 29 countries. Among those who were instrumental in securing funding for Canada’s participation was Dr. Robert F. Jackson, a Toronto orthopedic surgeon who later became the first President of the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association, and was one of the founders of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

The first Paryalympic Summer Games to be held in Canada took place in Toronto in 1976. Shortly after, the Canadian Government granted funding for the development of sporting opportunities to those with disabilities, and Canada has continued to be a leader in the Paralympic movement.

Many Canadian brain injury survivors have particularly distinguished themselves at the Paralympic Games. Among them is equestrian Judy Schloss, who suffered an ABI as a result of an automobile accident that left her in a three-month coma. She returned to riding after rehabilitation, and took part in the 2012 Games in London as a member of Canada’s Paralympic equestrian team.

Frank Bruno

Someone else who particularly shone in the Paralympics is ABI survivor and BIST member Frank Bruno. In 1986, Frank suffered a severe accident at work, falling 20 feet and fracturing both sides of his skull. He was in a coma for three weeks, and initially, his doctors gave him little chance of recovery. Yet Frank had been an accomplished athlete up to the time of the accident, and despite initial paralysis, he underwent several weeks of therapy and was soon able to walk on his own, much to the amazement of his doctors and therapists.

In 1987, a classmate who worked at the office of Sport for the Disabled Ontario (now Parasport Ontario) asked him if he was interested in taking part in sports again. Because walking itself was proving such a challenge, he declined, but a year later decided to try it. Frank started competing in 1988, and placed second in both the 100m and 200m Provincial Championships. The following year in Ottawa, he came in first, not only in the two races, but also in the long jump and the shot put – impressive results from someone who was not expected to recover at all.

In 1991, the Paralympic Organizing Committee invited him to participate in the “test meet” in Barcelona, Spain. There, he ran in the 200m and the 400m events, winning gold in both and beating the world record in the 400m. He enjoyed great success again the following year during the Summer Paralympic Games, where he won golds in the 100m, 200m, and 400m sprints and set two new world- and Paralympic records, and a Canadian record. The 200m record was unbroken for eight years, and the 400m, for five years.

He took part in only one event in the 1996 Paralympics-  the shot put –  and despite a  tonic -chronic seizure that greatly hampered his training, he placed a commendable fourth.

In August, 2004, Frank was asked to help build the soccer program for the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association with the aim of qualifying for the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China. Further proof of his reputation came in 2010, when he was awarded the King Clancy Award, and again in 2011, when he was inducted into the Durham College Sports Hall of Fame.

To what did he attribute his tremendous success? Not only years of training, but also his  coach Faye Blackwood, his therapist Joy Gilbert, and his entire  family. As he explained, the athletes compete only for a two-week period, but the effort that goes into those fourteen days is the result of training for years leading up to the games. Frank went on to say that competing can be cruel:

“ …You only get one chance at your event…..if you do well you move on….if you struggle (and fail) you are eliminated……even if you have been doing great in all your training………it only takes a miscue of any kind…”

Nevertheless, he’s pleased that the Paralympics are receiving so much more recognition than they were when he was competing. Back in the early 1990s, the games had very little coverage. At that time, very few, if any, would show up for press conferences, and there was only one person conducting interviews for all sporting events. Now there’s coverage by television, radio, print and social media including live coverage on CBC.

The Paralympics – like their regular counterpart – can be exhilarating, demanding, uplifting, devastating and full of joy – but also full of disappointments. Whatever emotion they produce on the part of either participant or spectator, the games provide a marvelous opportunity for those who happen to excel at athletics, but also happen to be physically or mentally challenged in some way.

People like Judy Schloss and Frank Bruno set goals for themselves and demonstrated what they could accomplish despite having suffered a brain injury. Each person is unique and each has something to offer – long may the Paralympic Games exist to offer fun and competition to those who are already face challenges every day.

Richard Haskell is a volunteer with the Brain Injury Society of Toronto’s Communications Committee.

BIST 5K run report

With the cold weather settling in on the city of Toronto, we’re taking one last look back on the pleasanter days of September, when the Brain Injury Society of Toronto hosted its second annual 5K Run Walk and Roll. Of course, the weather wasn’t exactly perfect that day, either, but that didn’t keep the runners and volunteers away. BIST communications committee volunteer Richard Haskell was there to capture the mood.

Runners set off at the start of BIST's 5K Run, Walk and Roll. Photo by Ian Bowles.
Runners set off at the start of BIST’s 5K Run, Walk and Roll. Photo by Ian Bowles.

By Richard Haskell

The forecast called for “intermittent showers,” and that’s exactly what was happening during the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept 22. Nevertheless, by 9:55 a.m. the sun began peeking through the clouds just in time to mark the official start of BIST’s 5k Run Walk and Roll, the organization’s second annual run in Sunnybrook Park.

What had motivated more than 300 participants — including adults, children, and a couple of canines — to come out and run, walk or roll for BIST? The reasons were as varied as the participants themselves.

Lisa Cybulskie, who clocked in at 18:38 and placed first in the women’s category, is a keen amateur runner who happened to be taking part in a marathon on the same course later this fall.

Top men’s winner was John Healy, who referred to himself as a “runner, lawyer, husband and dad” who completed the course in 19:17. This was his first year running the 5K race, and because he has friends with acquired brain injuries (ABIs), he felt an obligation to participate. Second–place men’s winner Adam Morello is a marathon runner, soon to be participating in a major competition.

Medals for run particpants.

Some participants were ABI survivors themselves, including fifth-place finisher Jeff Bryce. The 36-year-old lawyer suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1992 when a pickup truck rolled over while he was working on a project in Guyana.

Kudos also go to the gentleman who was pushed by a friend in a wheelchair for the entire 5K.

This year’s event was even more successful than the inaugural one held last year, with 350 registered to take part, and more than $45,000 raised for brain injury-programs.

Volunteers directed by Cora Moncada began arriving around 8am to help set up, and their ongoing efforts throughout the day proved valuable. They moved tables, stuffed bags, worked at the registration and food tents, watched over children, and generally kept the whole event running smoothly from start to finish.

This year’s special guest was Kathleen Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West. In a brief speech, Ms. Wynne spoke of the need for increasing knowledge surrounding ABIs.

“Because so much information concerning brain injuries is still misunderstood, there’s a tremendous need for greater awareness,” Wynne said.

A deejay spinning dance tunes kept the atmosphere lively throughout the morning and assisted with the warm-up activities provided by a fitness instructor just prior to the race.

After the race had concluded, participants, volunteers, and onlookers enjoyed some enticing food and drink in the way of fresh fruit, sandwiches, doughnuts and bagels in addition to bottled water and coffee.

Julie Ly, a BIST member and formerly with BIST’s membership committee, won the iPad draw for those who helped to raise more than $250. (She raised more than $1000.)

A big thanks to all the sponsors, the planning committee, volunteers, staff, and of course, the runners, walkers, and rollers.

When the game’s over: The link between contact sports and brain injuries

By Melissa Myers

After 14 years of fighting and over 100 fights including boxing, MMA and kickboxing matches, life is not the same anymore for Gary Goodridge.  Goodridge, who resides in Barrie, Ont., was an accomplished fighter and author of the book Gatekeeper: The Fighting Life of Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge. Now retired, he has been diagnosed with a disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the result of numerous concussions.

“In a day I probably lose 70 per cent of what is happening,” said Goodridge, referring to his short-term memory. “I couldn’t tell you what I was doing a half hour ago.”

Gary Goodridge. Photo from Twitter.
Gary Goodridge. Photo from Twitter.

CTE, formerly known as boxer’s dementia, occurs when a protein called Tau builds up in the brain after several concussions.  Those diagnosed exhibit symptoms similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Although Goodridge’s biography and the overtly aggressive nature of fighting in MMA and kickboxing are extreme examples, concussions are quite commonplace and the risks become even higher when participating in any contact sport.

“Concussions are the most frequent head injury,” said Dr. Paul Comper, Clinical Neuropsychologist in the Neuro Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Rehab, in an interview last month.  Dr. Comper says football/rugby, hockey and soccer are the most high-risk contact sports because of the associated speed and aggression.

Concussions, also referred to as mild traumatic head or brain injuries (MTHI’s or mTBI’s), occur when a person who is moving quickly comes to an abrupt stop and their brain hits up against their skull.  Although helmets can protect the skull, they cannot protect against concussion when high speeds are involved, as abrasions can still occur to the brain tissue when an athlete’s head comes into contact with another player or a hard surface.

This action often results in the symptoms we associate with concussions, such as blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, and in extreme cases, loss of consciousness. When athletes show no symptoms, their injury is called a sub-concussion. But just because it is not apparent a concussion has been sustained at the time, that  doesn’t stop its long-term effects from becoming apparent later on.

“It is an injury that can be managed and should be managed effectively,” said Dr. Comper.

He says that because symptoms may not arise right away, allowing an injured player to re-enter the game too quickly could have catastrophic results.  Dr. Comper stressed that educating parents and coaches about the proper steps to take after athletes sustain a concussion can make all the difference in the long run.

Dr. Comper also noted that the best treatments for concussions are removal from play, rest, and gradual reactivation. Spectators on the scene can have an essential role in initiating the healing process by ensuring the player does not return to play. 

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