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HEADS UP conference to concentrate on all sports-related brain injuries; looks into the mental health issues affecting patients

Toronto, September 12, 2013

By Susan Yellin

Dr. Michael Cusimano
Dr. Michael Cusimano

A long-term research program on traumatic brain injuries at St. Michael’s Hospital is expanding its annual concussion conference outside the hockey arena and will delve into all sports-related injuries as well as the psychiatric struggles that slowly and silently affect some patients.

“This year the focus at our concussion conference will specifically emphasize new research across all sports, and on understanding and detecting mental health issues, as well as having a dialogue on the stigma of sports-related concussions,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and lead author of a recent report on sports-related brain injuries in Canadian youth.

Dr. Cusimano, who will be discussing his findings at the Heads Up Conference on Saturday (Sept. 14), leads a team studying TBIs under a Strategic Teams in Applied Injury Research grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.

While previous conferences talked about how and why brain injuries take place, Dr. Shree Bhalerao, a psychiatrist and conference speaker, said his discussions will concentrate on the treatment of psychiatric disorders, such as addictions, anxiety and depression as well as the stigma and discrimination that can follow a TBI patient throughout life.

The subject of TBIs and their after-effects were recently highlighted when the National Football League agreed to a tentative US$765-million settlement to the more than 4,500 former athletes who suffered concussions, accusing the league of concealing the long-term dangers of concussion-related brain injuries.

For the first time the free conference is being webcast so viewers can watch the conference live or taped. Organizers want to distribute the conference recording through the Brain Injury Association of Canada and the Coaches Association of Ontario.

The conference will also show a trailer of a documentary Dr. Bhalerao is making, Sending Madness, detailing the emotional struggle of athletes, coaches and parents to seek psychiatric care after a brain injury. When the documentary is finished in about a year, it will include hockey professional Eric Lindros, who suffered a number of concussions during his National Hockey League career, and Hayley Wickenheiser, a three-time Olympic hockey gold medalist and an outspoken proponent of safety in sports.

The documentary and the conference itself will feature Max Taylor, a professional hockey player who received four concussions over two years while playing centre in the American Hockey League, but whose life changed dramatically because of the physical and emotional changes brought on by a brain injury.

Speakers at the conference will also discuss their findings in a major study of adolescents who suffered a TBI, described as being unconscious for at least five minutes or requiring an overnight stay in hospital.

Dr. Gabriela Ilie, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital, said her research paper, which used data from one of the longest ongoing school surveys in the world, indicated that sports injuries accounted for more than half of the cases of TBI among young people.

Other speakers at the conference include:

  • Dr. Robert Mann, a senior scientist at the Center for Addictions and Mental Health and the director of the Collaborative Program in Addiction studies at the University of Toronto, will be discussing substance and alcohol use in adolescents with TBI.
  • Dr. Donna Ouchterlony, director of the Head Injury Clinic at St. Michael’s, will be discussing what signs to look for following a concussion to identify whether medical help should be sought for psychological symptoms. Dr. Ouchterlony has just opened a new urgent care concussion clinic to facilitate quicker and more streamlined care.
  • Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s, whose primary area of research aims at establishing biomarkers for the various outcomes associated with traumatic brain injury. She is developing internet-based technology for treating depression in patients with traumatic brain injury.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca