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Protecting The Brain Against Concussion: Kim Gorgens (Transcript)

Following is the full transcript of neuropsychologist Kim Gorgens’s talk titled “Protecting The Brain Against Concussion” at TEDxDU conference.

Kim Gorgens – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

So, a funny thing happened on my way to becoming a brilliant, world-class neuropsychologist: I had a baby.

And that’s not to say I ever went on to become a brilliant, world-class neuropsychologist. Sorry, TED.

But I did go on to be a reasonably astute, arguably world-class worrier. One of my girlfriends in graduate school, Marie, said, “Kim, I figured it out. It’s not that you’re more neurotic than everyone else; it’s just that you’re more honest about how neurotic you are.”

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I brought some pictures to share. Awwww. I’ll just say: July. Zip! For safety. Water wings — an inch of water.

And then, finally, all suited up for the 90-minute drive to Copper Mountain. So you can get kind of a feel for this.

So my baby, Vander, is eight years old now. And, despite being cursed with my athletic inability, he plays soccer. He’s interested in playing football. He wants to learn how to ride a unicycle.

So why would I worry? Because this is what I do. This is what I teach. It’s what I study. It’s what I treat. And I know that kids get concussed every year. In fact, more than 4 million people sustain a concussion every year, and these data are just among kids under 14 who were seen in emergency rooms.

And so when kids sustain a concussion, we talk about them getting dinged or getting their bell rung, but what is it that we’re really talking about? Let’s take a look.

[Concussive Force]

“Starsky and Hutch”? Arguably, yes. So, a car accident. Forty miles an hour into a fixed barrier: 35 Gs. A heavyweight boxer punches you straight in the face: 58 Gs.

In case you missed it, we’ll look again.

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So look to the right-hand side of the screen.

What would you say? How many Gs? Close. Seventy-two? Would it be crazy to know: 103 Gs? The average concussive impact is 95 Gs.

Now, when the kid on the right doesn’t get up, we know they’ve had a concussion. But how about the kid on the left, or the athlete that leaves the field of play? How do we know if he or she has sustained a concussion? How do we know that legislation that would require they be pulled from play, cleared for return to play, applies to them?

The definition of concussion doesn’t actually require a loss of consciousness. It requires only a change in consciousness, and that can be any one or a number of symptoms, including feeling foggy, feeling dizzy, hearing a ringing in your ear, being more impulsive or hostile than usual.

So given all of that and given how darn neurotic I am, how do I get any sleep at all? Because I know our brains are resilient. They’re designed to recover from an injury. If — God forbid — any of us left here tonight and sustained a concussion, most of us would go on to fully recover inside of a couple hours to a couple of weeks.

But kids are more vulnerable to brain injury. In fact, high-school athletes are three times more likely to sustain catastrophic injuries relative even to their college-age peers, and it takes them longer to return to a symptom-free baseline.

After that first injury, their risk for second injury is exponentially greater. From there, their risk for a third injury, greater still, and so on. And here’s the really alarming part: We don’t fully understand the long-term impact of multiple injuries. You guys may be familiar with this research that’s coming out of the NFL.

In a nutshell, this research suggests that, among retired NFL players with three or more career concussions, the incidence of early-onset dementing disease is much greater than it is for the general population. So you’ve all seen that — New York Times, you’ve seen it.

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What you may not be familiar with is that this research was spearheaded by NFL wives who said, “Isn’t it weird that my 46-year-old husband is forever losing his keys?”

“Isn’t it weird that my 47-year-old husband is forever losing the car?”

“Isn’t it weird that my 48-year-old husband is forever losing his way home in the car, from the driveway?”

I may have forgotten to mention that my son is an only child. So it’s going to be really important that he be able to drive me around someday.


How can we 100 percent guarantee the safety of our kids? Let me tell you what I’ve come up with.

If only. My little boy’s right there, and he’s like, “She’s not kidding. She’s totally not kidding.”

So in all seriousness: Should my kid play football? Should your kid play football? I don’t know.

But I do know there are three things you can do.

The first: STUDY UP. You have to be familiar with the issues we’re talking about today. There are some great resources out there. The CDC has a program, HEADS UP. It’s at CDC.gov. HEADS UP is specific to concussion in kids.

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