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Did Jim McMahon's concussions cause dementia?

U. neuropsychologist says repeated blows cause more severe damage final

Published: Friday, Sept. 28 2012 5:52 p.m. MDT

Helmet manufacturers are continually looking for technology that will make game play safer, Thompson said, adding that since he was a boy, football gear has lightened up tremendously.

"The way they are designed right now is to prevent a skull fracture and they do a great job at that, but rapidly stopping, even with a helmet on, can't protect the brain," he said. "They're just not designed to prevent concussion."

But all the pads and extra protection, Eastvold said, "can produce a false sense of safety."

"They are hitting harder now, so the force is greater," she said.

A concussion causes a contusion, or bruising on the brain, that causes all kinds of problems in delivery of what the brain can provide to the body.

Intentional and sometimes unintentional helmet-to-helmet contact in high school games in Utah, Thompson said, results in unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty.

"There's no question they want to win," he said. "But it is written into the rules. We try to teach players that aggression can threaten safety, but it's not preventable."

The most common symptom of a concussion is headache, but effects can be physical, in terms of decreased balance and visual disturbances, or sensitivity to light and noise; cognitive, with confusion and memory problems; and cause issues with sleep, moodiness or irritability.

"Everyone can experience them in different degrees and for different periods of time," Eastvold said regarding symptoms. About 20 percent of individuals recover within a day's time, and more than 60 percent are back to normal after a week. Less than 3 percent, she said, experience symptoms of a concussion longer than a month.

McMahon said he does what he can to keep his mind active, but he still forgets people and conversations.

Anyone who suffers the degenerative disease can probably expect cognitive functioning to get worse over time, Eastvold said. Awareness of it, however, may prevent the condition for others.

"Any attention to anything that endangers a student, we think is good," Thompson said. "The more awareness there is, the more likely a parent is going to be to take care of the symptoms. Coaches and officials are watching for it. All of that helps provide a safer experience for the students."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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