AFL moves on concussion: will fund research
Two worlds colliding: Geelong’s Taylor Hunt and St Kilda’s Lenny Hayes. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THE AFL has joined with one of Australia's most renowned medical institutes to attempt ground-breaking research on the impact of concussion on AFL players.
The AFL has agreed to work - and fund, with $100,000 - the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, which has already been studying the brains of a number of past and present AFL players using advanced technology.
The AFL and Florey will today announce a partnership in which past and present players will be studied to gain a better knowledge of concussion and the long-term effects of concussions which have been highlighted recently by the likes of ex-champion Greg Williams, who has expressed concern about possible brain trauma.
The Florey's senior deputy director, neurologist Professor Graeme Jackson, said the project - which was slated for the next five years - aimed to study players using advanced imaging technology shortly after they had been concussed. The Florey had been scanning some players brains - about 10 - over the past five years.
Jackson said the plan was to examine about 20 AFL players per year. ''Someone who's had a concussion on the Saturday, and we'll scan them on the Sunday. We want to see what the brain's doing and when it returns to normal,'' he said.
Jackson said the Florey specialised in Alzheimers' Disease - which ''is what Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) looks like, because CTE is really just early Alzheimers Disease from a pathological point of view.''
The Florey-AFL project will involve leading concussion experts including Professor Paul McCrory, Dr Michael Makdissi and Associate Professor Gavin Davis and the AFL's medical directors Dr Peter Harcourt and Dr Harry Unglick.
Jackson said while AFL football was played in a different manner to the National Football League, where CTE had been in post-mortems, the ''concern'' of past and present player was ''understandable.''
The AFL's ''open minded'' approach to the potential long-term ramifications of head injuries saw the league confirm on Wednesday that clubs can now replace players being assessed for concussion during games with their non-activated substitute player.
Players who have already been subbed out of a match cannot re-enter it, but AFL medical director Peter Harcourt said further options would be considered in time.
Harcourt, who said the league had worked hard to inform players that changes to the concussion rules had been made for their health and welfare, expected clubs to assess at least one head injury per game this season and for clubs to manage such injuries more conservatively.
The 20-minute assessment period was one of many recommendations made in the consensus report released less than two weeks ago following last year's international conference on concussion in sport in Zurich, with the AFL the first major sport to adopt its suggested protocols.
The new guidelines will also see video monitors installed in the interchange area so that club doctors have immediate access to vision of their players' head clashes, and any player diagnosed with a concussion must sit out the rest of the match.
Some of the changes will filter down to state league level, with the AFL to also release revised guidelines for community clubs and junior competitions.
The first day of the two-day concussion in football conference was addressed by Professor Willem Meeuwisse from the University of Calgary, who co-chaired the Zurich conference. He said while many protocols could be introduced to improve the game day assessment of concussion, the individual nature of such injuries made it difficult for sports like the AFL to prescribe set rest periods.
''Even if you have a fixed time frame you're going to probably hold people out who would actually be OK to play, and you'll also allow people to go back to play who are actually not yet recovered,'' he said.