The best way to ensure that athletes who suffer concussions playing sports have the best possible outcome in both the short and long term is to educate them and their parents about the importance of self-reporting and the parent's role in the critical return to play decision.
The first right of parents under the Parent's Concussion Bill of Rights is to expect that their child's athletic program will hold a concussion education and safety meeting for parents and athletes before every season Ideally, the meeting should include presentations by:
Medical doctors familiar with the grading and evaluation of concussions and return to play guidelines to educate parents on the important role they play in their child's recovery from a suspected concussion, especially in terms of:
- checking for signs of deteriorating mental status requiring immediate hospitalization,
- ensuring that their child gets the cognitive rest required,
- monitoring for continuing signs and symptoms of post-concussion syndrome that must clear completely before an athlete should be allowed to return to play, and
- educating their child about the dangers they face if they fail to report symptoms or begin playing again before symptoms have cleared.
Former athletes who can share personal stories about the consequences of continuing to play with concussion symptoms and/or the long term health consequences of multiple concussions, such as reoccurring headaches, depression, and concentration and memory problems; and
Parents of concussed athletes who can emphasize how critical it is that, in making the all-important return-to-play decision, parents put a child's long term future and well-being above short-term athletic success; that parents constantly evaluate, along with their child if she is old enough, whether the risk of chronic, major depression or early signs of Alzheimer's down the road may make ending a career the best choice.
Regardless of who the program calls to make presentations at the meeting, the goal should be to provide parents and athletes with the all-important information they need to decide when it is safe to return to play, whether it be the next game, next season or not at all. To reinforce the message of the meeting, parents should be furnished with information to take home, such as articles from this website or obtained from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as part of its "Heads Up" kit (which contains a good video on concussions that be a substitute for live presentations, along with fact sheets for parents, athletes, and coaches).
Parents are in the best position to help their child see that their health should not take a back seat to short term individual and team success, but they need to know, also, that the program is not sending out a different message.