Concussion awareness rises for non-athletes

With the nation’s growing focus on the long-term effects of concussions, athletic programs at Waynesburg University have experienced an  increase in preventative safety measures. Student-athletes must take the ImPACT Test before and after collisions, they are monitored closely by physicians and athletic trainers when a concussion occurs and most recently, the football program acquired 12 new helmets that monitor and alert coaches of heavy impacts during play.

When it comes to non-athletes, however, many students at Waynesburg aren’t aware of the safeties available to them when they suffer a concussion.

Jennifer Dean, nurse director of student health services, said her office receives around 10 students every year who are experiencing symptoms of concussions. Unlike students who become concussed due to athletic activities, Dean said these students get hurt in a variety of ways.

“We’ve had students who have had car accidents,” Dean said. “Sometimes we’ve had students like, wrestling in their room and [hitting] their head. Sometimes we’ve had students that will just wake up really fast and they’re in a bunk and they hit their head on the bed. Sometimes it’s a fall,” said Dean.

When a concussed student visits Health Services,  Dean said she often “outsources,” depending on its severity, sending the patient to the emergency room or to the medical director, off-campus.

“We send them out,” said Dean. “We don’t have the capability to treat them here. There’s not a physician on staff.”

Dean said depending on the severity of the concussion, or if the student has suffered from a concussion more than once, their symptoms could include a headache, blurred vision, nausea or an inability to concentrate. These ailments could affect how students perform in class, so , when these students visit Health Services, Dean said she tells them to contact the Office of Academic Success and Disability Services.

Courtney Balban, academic support counselor, said her office receives two to five students each year who struggle with concussion-related symptoms. The resources available to those students depend on  on their exact circumstances, she said.

“Concussions are unpredictable in how long they’ll impact a student and the extent of the impact,” Balban said. “They’re provided with accommodations according to what the doctor provided me with. A typical accommodation could be anything as far as extended test time to wearing sunglasses in class. It really depends on the nature of the concussion, how the concussion is impacting the student.”

The purpose of her office is to  “level the playing field,” Balban said, which is why students must prove their concussion with documentation.

“In my office, it’s all based on documentation from the doctor,” Balban said. “It’s a way that we keep it just. It’s a way that we ensure that a student who does need the accommodations is protected, because it’s no longer an accommodation when a student who doesn’t truly need it is able to access it.”

At a time when concussions are more talked about and more rife with controversy in the sports world, Balban said, the procedures in her office have stayed roughly the same. The process for treatment is where the changes are occurring.

Indeed, Dean said rates of concussion are on the rise — she thinks it’s because students are more aware of the long-term effects, like post-concussive syndrome, and are more likely to report their injuries. While many associate concussions with high-impact sports like football, non-athletes are typically worse off in most places, since there are often fewer resources available to non-athletes who sustain a concussion.

For example, Athletic Trainer Andy Palko,  described a five-stage return-to-play procedure, where football players are closely monitored during their recovery from a concussion. For non-athletes, recovery is their own responsibility.

“I think they definitely need to utilize their resources,” Dean said. “Come and see us. Even though we’re not going to treat it, we’ll get you to where you need to go. Make sure you’re working with your professors and they’re understanding what’s going on and keeping them up to date.”