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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Post-concussion problems a concern for non-athletes too

After retired New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson told his story of depression and other mental impairments following a succession of on-field concussions, his neurosurgeon, Dr. Robert C. Cantu, thought he might hear from other retired professional football players.

He did. Some came to see him and others just talked to him on the phone about problems they trace to their playing days.

What surprised Cantu, who is chief of neurosurgery at Emerson Hospital in Concord and co-director of the Neurological Sports Injury Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital, was the handful of non-athletes he heard from.

"The scope of the problem goes beyond the athletic fields because people in certain lines of work sustain multiple concussions," he said.

A firefighter or a tree surgeon, for example, might sustain multiple concussions, he said. If not allowed enough time to recover, the brain is more vulnerable to a second or third concussion.

Not every head injury leads to the kind of problems Johnson had, Cantu said, but damage can still be done.

"There are many reasons for depression," he said. "Prior head injury is only one."

If someone had one or more concussions but completely recovered from them, he said, it's unlikely depression 20 years later is related to the earlier injuries. But if someone had a few concussions and ever since had been depressed, the likelihood of a connection increases, especially if the second concussion came when the effects of the first one had not gone away.

Cantu has a message for athletes or other people whose work puts them in harm's way for a concussion.

"Don't go back to a hazardous occupation while symptomatic."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:31 AM
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