The A Step aHead program helps educate coaches, parents and players about concussions and player safety
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI
Concussions can happen to any athlete at any age.
That is why the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) is trying to educate players and athletes about this common injury. AHAI, in partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem, Athletico Physical Therapy and the Chicago Blackhawks, is encouraging its members to register for a free neurocognitive ImPACT baseline test through the A Step aHead program. These four groups came together in 2011 to educate the Illinois youth hockey community on the importance of concussion management and to be proactive with implementing baseline testing.
Through A Step aHead, these four entities offer free baseline concussion testing, educational programs such as the annual Moms’ Night and Dads’ Night at the United Center, and concussion and player safety presentations to youth hockey coaches at AHAI’s Level 1 Coaching Education Program (CEP) clinics and affiliate clubs’ boards of directors at AHAI’s Annual Meeting.
Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, Associate Director of the Sports Concussion Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem, was instrumental in creating the A Step aHead program. Pieroth, who is also the Concussion Specialist for the Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bears, Chicago Fire, and Chicago White Sox, said having hockey players go through the test is important for a couple reasons.
“One, it’s beneficial for health care providers to have an assessment of an athlete’s cognitive functioning prior to injury for comparison after an injury occurs. Two, there’s also an educational component just by taking the test because the athletes are exposed to the various symptoms of concussions. Sometimes athletes don’t report a concussion because they did not realize the symptoms they were experiencing were indicative of a concussion.”
“There are certain functions of the brain that are affected in concussions. We want to assess those functions, such as memory, attention, processing speed, reaction time, prior to an injury.” Pieroth said. “So after an athlete has suffered a concussion and is not longer have any symptoms, we reassess them to make sure that we don’t see any evidence of incomplete recovery.”
Parents can sign up their child for the baseline test online through the Athletico website and can also download a brochure for additional information. Pieroth said baseline tests are available at 30 Athletico locations around Chicagoland.
“Athletico has done an amazing job making sure that these clinics all have quiet areas where the testing can be done correctly,” Pieroth said. “It really needs to be done in an environment with limited distractions and computer access.”
The baseline test is intended for athletes 11 to 18 years of age. Unfortunately, the test cannot be administered to kids younger than eleven. Once an athlete undergoes the baseline test, the results are entered into a database that Pieroth manages and isn’t available to the public. “Hopefully they never need to use the test, but if your child were to be concussed, the baseline information is made available for you and your healthcare provider.” Pieroth said.
AHAI President John Dunne said this is the seventh year the baseline test has been offered for AHAI members. It’s paramount for parents to sign up their kids.
“That’s why so many people get together to support the program, it doesn’t cost the families or players anything,” Dunne said. “The program is all about making sure that the kids are as safe as possible or at least make sure they have the tools to make good decisions.”
“I think that in general the concussions are not as prevalent at the younger ages because of the USA Hockey rule changes,” Dunne said. “So, eliminating the body-checking at the younger ages I think has helped that. So, the 11- and 12-year-olds, there is contact but they’re not checking. So, that first two years of baseline testing is a good tool for that age because they’re not actually checking at that time.”
Testing opened up this year in early July and runs until November 30. “We have good involvement with the program, but we are always looking for ways to improve participation,” said Pieroth. AHAI would love to see that number rise in the last few weeks the testing is offered.
“Yes, we’re always looking for ways to increase participation,” Dunne said. “The program has led to other things — we have done three or four parent nights that we’ve passed along information, not just about the concussion program, but about nutrition and some other topics.”
Pieroth agreed with Dunne saying, “Although the free ImPACT Baseline test is important, the largest and most important component of the A Step aHead program is education. We are continually looking for innovative ways to educate parents through A Step aHead’s new ‘The Next Step Series’ which will include lectures covering a myriad of topics identified through parent surveys to include recovering from sports-related injuries, proper equipment fitting, social/emotional topics, social media and nutrition, bullying and others.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.