New smart helmets, mouthguards may help detect football brain injuries sooner

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online
Sports-related brain injuries have become the cause of concern among parents, players and fans in recent years. The effects of multiple concussions can be devastating and long lasting, and include depression, cognitive issues and even an increased risk of Alzheimers disease.
Football players especially seem to be susceptible to these traumatic injuries. Former National Football League (NFL) players had filed a class-action lawsuit against the organization claiming that it didn’t do enough to protect player health and failed to let them know about the long-term dangers of suffering repeated injuries.
Earlier this year, Ohio State University player Kosta Karageorge, who had a history of concussions during his college football career, was found dead as the result of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Even yesterday, as West Virginia University quarterback Clint Trickett‘s teammates prepared for their AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Texas A&M,  he was forced to retire from the sport after suffering five concussions in 14 months.
In February, research presented during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology found that currently-available football helmets were virtually indistinguishable from one another and were largely ineffective when it comes to preventing concussions.
On average, they reduced the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) by just 20 percent when compared to not even wearing a helmet. The study also found that the Adams A2000 helmet offered the best protection against concussions, while the Schutt Air Advantage provided the worst.
According to TechCrunch, research has demonstrated that professional football players will receive an average of 900 to 1,500 blows to the head during a single season. Sixty percent of all football collisions are head-to-head, with 37 percent occurring in the front, 36 percent taking place in the back, and the remainder on the sides from a rotational force.
“A concussion occurs when the head is whiplashed or receives a blow that causes our three-pound brains, which normally float around in a cushion of fluid, to slam violently against the skull,” the website added. “On the field, many concussions occur at 100Gs of force when two players running at an average of 20 mph collide, and all motion stops within a short amount of time (10-15 milliseconds), except the brain, which keeps moving and absorbing that force.”
The NFL and the National Institutes for Health (NIH) have been teaming up to study traumatic brain injuries for more than a year now, and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) last December announced a partnership with USA Football to increase player safety by endorsing USA Football’s Heads Up Football program.
At the forefront of the battle against football-related brain injuries is new technological developments “such as sensors and magnets,” which TechCrunch explained “are being weaved into the designs of new personal equipment with the intent to detect, disperse, displace and absorb force and further reduce the risk of brain injury in impact sports.”
Obviously, helmets are one of the primary safety devices used to protect the heads of football players, and to that end, Riddell released a new high-tech “smart helmet” earlier this year called INSITE. The company said that the INSITE impact uses sensors contained in the helmet to monitor head impact exposure, then transmits that data to personnel on the sidelines, allowing them to keep a closer eye on each player’s condition and concussion history.
However, several new types of mouthguards are also becoming more technologically advanced in order to combat traumatic brain injuries. Several new types are being outfitted with sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes and built-in sensors that collect real-time information about the force of an on-field collision, notifying coaches and medical staff about potential head injuries.
One type, the FITGuard by Force Impact Technologies, has an LED display on the front that will change colors based on the force of an impact, giving a visible warning of a possible concussion. Another, the Vector MouthGuard by i1 Biometrics, uses chips to measure the location and level of collisions absorbed by athletes and creates real-time assessments of an athlete’s welfare which are sent to the mobile devices of sideline personnel.
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine professor Dr. Raymond Colello has come up with a unique way to address the issue, according to TechCrunch. Colello has come up with the idea to retrofit existing football helmets with thin, curved magnets, which he says can be used to disperse energy upon impact. Using magnets made from the rare-earth element neodymium could reduce the amount of G-forces by nearly half, he explained.
“Colello says the magnets weigh about one-third to a half pound each so, with the expectation of using one to three magnets per helmet, the retrofit would be within regulation for regular and smart helmets, with a little wiggle room if needed,” the website said. “But it’s an all or nothing deal. All players on the field need to use helmet magnets in order to benefit from the repulsion effect.”
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