Health professionals, coaches and parents came together for a concussion seminar in Yellowknife over the weekend.
The aim of the two-day Concussion Café was to start a dialogue on concussions and the damaging effect they can have on adults and youth.
It also attempted to make a connection between head injuries and sports and to explore potential prevention strategies.
A concussion, otherwise known as a mild traumatic brain injury, can be diagnosed following a direct blow to the head, face or neck.
Health professionals say they have made significant strides in concussion research in the last eight years, but say there is still much to learn.
“We are learning more every day,” said Dr. Michael Vassilyadi, a pediatric neurosurgeon based in Ottawa and keynote speaker over the weekend.
“Unfortunately, injuries to high-profile individuals like Sidney Crosby have helped in a way to bring this more to the forefront.
“Them coming out and declaring that they have a concussion and that they are following the appropriate steps has a big effect since people will learn more about concussions.”
Vassilyadi says children are most likely to sustain a concussion playing sports.
While a majority of concussions are resolved within three weeks, Vassilyadi says that can change on case-by-case basis.
He’s confident, however, that head-related injuries are much more damaging for youth.
“Since children are growing, learning and interacting with their environment, any change that is introduced like a concussion could result in them having difficult adapting to it.
“There are many more components with a growing brain than there are with adult brains. They have behavioural changes, hormonal changes but once you have a wrench that’s thrown into a system that’s supposed to be flowing nicely, other issues such as mental health can develop.”
Vassilyadi says education is a good start when it comes to preventing and treating concussions.
He says parents, coaches and trainers should know the signs of a concussion and ensure that anyone who sustains one gives their brain a chance to heal.
“It’s hard to prevent concussions because everyone wants to have fun and play sports but if you’re a good ambassador of the sport than can go a long way,” added Vassilyadi.
“If a concussion does occur, people should try to mitigate the changes that come as a result of it. They should take the appropriate steps to recover from them before returning to the game they love.”
When it comes to preventing head injuries, health professionals say proper equipment can be life-saving.
Last summer, the City of Yellowknife passed a helmet by-law which requires youth under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while operating wheeled apparatuses. Violators face a $25 fine.
Yellowknife residents Ed and Jackie Hardy were instrumental in getting the by-law passed.
Since losing their son Josh to a longboarding accident in July 2012, the couple has pushed for mandatory helmet use for all age groups.
On Canada Day last year, the helmet by-law came into effect with a six-month grace period.
“I’m hoping it will make a difference,” Jackie Hardy said of the new by-law. “The penalty of $25 is minimal but whether you’re a child or an adult, you should have a helmet on your head.
“If anything, a neighbour yelling at you to put your helmet on since it’s the law now might help.”