As headlines herald the progression of concussion awareness and great danger of brain injuries, a local psychologist said that attitude seems to have passed our resort by.
Dr. Stephen Milstein of Mountain Psychology and Neurofeedback Centre said while parents seem to be doing more to protect their children from brain injuries, many adults in Whistler don't seem to be heeding the same message.
"I've seen people in this town who have, believe it or not, 10 concussions, 15 concussions, and it's never been treated. They keep boarding and skiing and banging their head. That's fairly dangerous," he said. "In the five years that I've been doing this, have I seen people understand that they really need to stop the physical activity and being so aggressive after a head injury? Some people get it. Has the attitude changed? No, probably not."
With that in mind, Milstein is one of four experts who is set to present at a Concussion and Brain Injury Awareness Panel at Myrtle Philip Community School on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Fellow presenter Greg McDonnell, a counsellor at Empathic Psychotherapy, said while he has seen progress with how such injuries are treated, he still observes barriers to treatment that must be broken down.
"Oftentimes, there's a lot of grief and loss that comes with not being able to do exercise. I find a lot of that in this town, whether the injury is a knee injury or a head injury, that there's a lot of grief and loss associated with not being able to participate in sports at the level they were doing before," McDonnell said. "A lot of times, their identity structure is connected to the sport and if you take that away, it often comes with a lot of grief and loss.
"Connected to that identity structure, people want to continue to ski or snowboard despite having had a head bonk and I think that can make things worse into the future. A big part of the event on the 17th is taking away that stigma about treating it."
In addition to treating physical symptoms of an injury, there can be emotional symptoms as well. McDonnell explained he would discuss coping strategies to help athletes deal with how they might be feeling. McDonnell said the symptoms parents should be on the lookout for include depression and combativeness.
Milstein, meanwhile, offers neurofeedback treatments in an attempt to address the brain directly and look to get it to respond.
"The bulk of it is brain training where, basically, you try to get a brain to operate in a more synchronized, coordinated way," he said. "You take somebody and they're listening to music or they're watching a screen while you're monitoring the electroencephelography (EEG) — that is what is going on electrically in the brain. When the brain is showing electrical activity that says the activities are not coordinated, you get what's called a negative reinforcement.
"When it is doing the right thing, there is positive reinforcement."
One option available is LENS (Low Energy Neurofeedback System) developed by California-based Ochs Labs, he said. According to the Ochs Labs website, the patient has sensors attached to his or her scalp and the sensors "extract information about certain key brainwave frequencies." From there, the information is returned to the patient through sensors along the skin.
"It's a disruptive technology. What it attempts to do is confuse the brain in little areas, anatomical areas, so when the brain's confused, it'll reset itself as a way to get out of its confusion," he said. "The LENS is, in my opinion, the most effective treatment to put concussion symptoms into remission."
Milstein said a number of factors will affect the recovery timeline, such as how soon after the injury one receives treatment and how many concussions one has had.
In addition to treating the brain, physiotherapy may also be required, Milstein said.
"Often, one of the things that happens when you get a concussion, when you bang your head hard enough, your neck, some of the bones in the skull, some things go out of place. If they're out of place, they can put pressure on the brain and you're not going to get better," Milstein said.
Allison McLean and Emilie Whittemore of Peak Performance Physiotherapy are also scheduled to be on the panel.
One key takeaway, according to Milstein, is those who suspect they've suffered a brain injury should seek help.
"The old advice used to be rest, and total rest and nothing else is probably not the right advice anymore," he said.