Rise in Number of Concussion Diagnoses Leads to Re-Examination of Treatment

During the 2014 – 2015 academic year, Isham Health Center expects to treat around 100 concussion cases, 30 more than in 2012. Amy Patel, Medical Director at Isham, said that this upward trend is not only present here at Andover, but also at schools around the country.

Concussion diagnosis and awareness have been prioritized at Andover in the past few years, with every new student taking the ImPACT baseline concussion test every two years. Additionally, there have been recent changes to concussion protocol: students may now be kept in Isham for up to 72 hours.

The ImPACT testing was first used by the training room for athletes. Eventually, every student was required to undergo testing during the fall of their first year at Andover as a baseline model.

**Concussion Protocol (according to Isham)**

When a student is first diagnosed with a concussion, or traumatic brain injury, he or she spends 24-72 hours in Isham, under a strict protocol of complete rest. After leaving Isham, students slowly resume normal activities, starting with academics and progressing towards athletics and other extracurricular activities.

“The symptoms are self-reported. Students have to share what they’re feeling, and Isham uses the student’s statements to determine when to do a follow up test,” said Marlena Ysalguez, Academic Skills Specialist.

“Once they are back to their baseline [ImPACT] assessment, they can start integrating back into academics and work with our Athletic Trainers on a ‘Return to Play’ protocol. If they go through all of this without symptoms, then they have the green light to reintegrate completely,” Patel said.

Students with traumatic brain injuries can miss anywhere from a few days to several weeks of classes, including major assignments. Patel emphasized that the recovery process is best taken slowly.

“When I got to Andover I figured out a short-term plan for me to work with the trainers,” said Lila Brady ’18, who suffered from a concussion before the start of her Junior year.

”I started out doing really low-impact workouts. After two months, I was feeling pretty good, so my parents and I pushed to go to the next step and increase my activity level,” she said.

“Students can go to class, but they can’t take anything high stakes while they’re symptomatic,” said Patricia Davison, Coordinator of Student Disabilities and Director of the Academic Skills Center.

In the case of an elongated recovery, students can seek the assistance of the Academic Skills Center (ASC). The ASC works with students to set a schedule for making up work, and works with teachers to compromise on some assignments.

“We never compromise the integrity of the course. Anything that’s essential cannot be waived. They have to prove at the end of the term that they’ve done all the essential requirements in the course,” said Davison.

Although Isham and ASC provide support for students, not all faculty members are familiar with concussion procedures.

**Psychological effects**

“It’s like telling an opera singer they can’t sing, telling a kid here that they can’t use their brain,” Davison said.

“One of the worst things about having a concussion here is not knowing how much of it is in your head and how much of it is an actual medical condition. That insecurity was probably the most challenging part of my injury,” said Lucius Xuan ’15, who suffered a concussion during his Junior year.

The anxiety often associated with missing work has been proven to exacerbate concussion symptoms, Davison said. In efforts to catch up too quickly, many students end up setting themselves back farther.

“Sometimes in recovery, you can take a few steps forward and then have a setback, which is really anxiety-inducing for many students,” said Patel.

Riley Hughes ’17 said, “Even though falling behind is upsetting, they keep telling me it’s all about my health. It gets kind of frustrating, because I want to push myself to just jump back in, and in this case, I can’t.”

Throughout combating student anxiety and frustration, Andover and Isham continue to support students by prioritizing their health and resuming their normal lives in the most manageable, healthy way possible.