Q&A: Tackle Football and the Risk of Concussions in Kids

NBC Universal, Inc.

There's been a lot of talk about concussions in kids and the long-term effects that they could have. NBC Connecticut's Dan Corcoran sat down with Dr. Anthony Alessi, director of the UConn Neurosport Program, to discuss the dangers and what parents should consider before letting their children play tackle football.

Dan: What have you seen in your years in this field? And do you think tackle football is something that parents should think twice about?

Dr. Alessi: Absolutely. You know, getting hit in the head is never a good thing, especially when it's done repeatedly. And we know that young people's brains take a while to develop. And, as best we can tell, it's really age 14 where we start to see that full development of the human brain. What we've found over the years has been that repeated brain injuries before that age, usually bring with it lifelong ramifications, such as migraine headaches, potentially seizures, and difficulties with learning.

Dan: So what's significant about that age in particular?

Dr. Alessi: Well, we believe from a neurophysiologic standpoint that that's where the brain has matured itself. Also, we believe that the brain has grown. But one of the other things that's been a big factor is the development of neck strength. You know, we've all seen children who are playing the sport, and their head goes back and forth, almost like a bobblehead. So we really want to develop and give the brain some stability. So it's really felt that age 14 is an approximate age of where that stability takes place.

Dan: Now, obviously, parents are making decisions for their children. So for the moms and dads out there who do have kids playing football, what warning signs should they watch out for that might indicate a more serious health problem?

Dr. Alessi: During the game, if you see one of your fellow players, or if you're a fan on the sidelines, watching a game, if you see an athlete, slow to get up, needs help getting up, starts staggering back to the huddle, it's time to call a timeout. So you want to get to take a look at the acute problem. The more chronic problem that parents, that families need to look at are a child who is suddenly not doing well in school, or a child who's starting to complain of daily headaches, difficulties with vision, changes in their behavior, where they become a lot more irritable. These are things that really need to be addressed and should be seen by a neurologist.

Contact Us