NFL Health Playbook will feature a guest columnist every Tuesday, each with a different viewpoint of player health and safety from the youth level to pro football.
By Dr. Joseph F. Waeckerle, NFL Evolution columnist
The family is the ultimate sentinel for the concussed student-athlete's well-being, especially during the management and recovery stages of care. The family contributes by supporting their student-athlete in academic, social, and athletic endeavors.
The family should work in concert with the attending health care professional and school to ensure that their student-athlete is benefiting from an individualized and comprehensive approach to his or her concussion care.
To this end, family members have crucial responsibilities. They should become knowledgeable about concussions, remain alert to the possibility of a concussion and, once a concussion is diagnosed, promote a personalized concussion care plan.
Importantly, family members are most sensitive to any changes in the mental, physical and psychological status of the concussed student-athlete and are a valuable resource to the attending health care professional and school in monitoring the progress of recovery.
Family members closely cooperate with the school staff and are particularly vital in ensuring their student-athlete's adherence to therapeutic recommendations. Of particular importance, family members should encourage the student-athlete to report or report themselves, any incident or symptoms that might indicate a possible concern, complication or deterioration.
School administrators, teachers, school nurses and other staff unite with the family to benefit the concussed student-athlete. The first step in this cohesive approach is to raise the level of awareness and knowledge about concussions for all school staff including understanding the causes and the symptoms and signs of concussions, the management strategies for dealing with cognitive and behavioral difficulties, and the possible short- and long- term complications. Importantly, school leadership should devise and implement a school concussion plan.
The goal of the plan is to mitigate the impact of concussion on the student-athlete's academic, social, and athletic endeavors. The school plan should identify a staff member to serve as a concussion care advocate to foster the concussed student-athlete optimal care to return to well-being.
The school advocate establishes a communication network among the injured student-athlete, his or her family, medical personnel, teachers and counselors. The advocate communicates regularly with the family, school staff and attending health care professional about the student-athlete's current status and about his or her performance and progress. The advocate works with the family, teachers, counselors and school nurse to implement appropriate academic short-term adjustments or a specific accommodation plan as needed for reintegrating the injured student-athlete into the classroom.
Ultimately, the family and school staff unite as guardians of health for the concussed student-athlete optimizing a personalized care plan that results in a return to well-being academically, socially and athletically.
Dr. Joseph F. Waeckerle is clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. He also is editor emeritus of Annals of Emergency Medicine. He has practiced Emergency Medicine and Sports Medicine and has been a team physician at the grade school, high school, college, and profession level for over 30 years. He currently serves on the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Injury Committee and the Mackey White Brain Injury Committee of the NFL Players Association.