Researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have teamed up with the Louisiana IceGators to study the long-term health consequences of repeated contact and the kind of harsh, one-time blows that can knock a player out.
Randy Aldret, the director for UL-Lafayette’s athletic training program and an assistant professor of kinesiology, and wife Dr. Stephanie Aldret, the IceGators’ team physician and a sports medicine physician at the CORE Institute at Louisiana Orthopedic Specialists, said they began the study in October after concluding much more research was needed.
Randy Aldret said when they get someone in who has just had a concussion, “we want to get a picture of what their blood and their tests look like. Is he going to be different than someone who goes a whole season without a concussion?”
Randy Aldret said the study measures the effects of mild hits to the head over a long period, called micro-traumas, as well as hard, one-time hits, called macro-traumas, that sometimes knock a player out. He said a close look at a player’s blood can discern many things.
“Let’s say one guy gets knocked out cold on the ice, and his blood looks a certain way and his tests look a certain way,” Aldret said. “Well, what about the guy who gets punched a little bit or elbowed every other game for 56 games? (Is) his cumulative micro-trauma going to be just as dangerous and bad for his long-term health as that guy who has the one significant event?”
The study consists of baseline testing on more than 20 IceGators’ players, which monitor cognition, sleep patterns and balance. In addition, Randy Aldret said, researchers examine blood samples, which show elevated blood proteins and inflammatory markers when the brain is concussed.
Stephanie Aldret said the players “have been super great about allowing us to draw blood” as part of the concussion management protocols to ensure accurate baselines.
The heath effects of continuous head blows to athletes, mainly on football players, has been front and center in the national conversation on concussions. It led to a class-action lawsuit pitting former NFL players against the league and is the subject of a 2015 film “Concussion.”
Randy Aldret said that national conversation combined with his wife’s position with the IceGators led to the endeavor.
“It was just a nexus for many different things. It was good research for me,” he said. “I got to do something with my best friend, and we’re going to do something together to make sports safer and make our jobs easier, whether that’s on the prevention end or the acute care and managing end. We thought, ‘Why don’t we do something about concussions because concussions are the big issue in sports medicine right now?’ ”
He said the couple hopes to do a “longitudinal study” — one that is conducted over a period of years — by studying the same players over five years.
The couple will team up with Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center and the Head Health Network, an organization that measures head trauma, for MRI testing and to install monitors into hockey players’ helmets.
Brad Barone, a goalie for the IceGators, said although he doesn’t know what the study will show, he decided to participate because he believes it is a great way to help athletes.
“I just think it’s important for future generations of athletes and hockey players that we do whatever we can to get the knowledge to know what we’re dealing with when we step on the ice or on the field,” Barone said. “I think it’s just a matter of trying to help out people down the line.”
Stephanie Aldret provided statistics that show there are 300,000 sports-related concussions reported every year and that half of all concussions suffered in high school sports go unreported.
“Different people are saying that football needs to be stopped,” she said. “The collision sports — soccer, hockey, rugby, football and wrestling — all have head injury risk.”
However, those sports are where some professionals, such as soldiers, police and firefighters, learned discipline and the aggression they need to do their jobs, Stephanie Aldret noted.
“I think it’s something that we’re always going to need, some sort of collision sport, one to keep people active and moving and also to keep them tough for those … things that we need them to be tough for,” she said.