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Child Helmet Safety

CINCINNATI (WKRC) -- One jarring collision can change everything in an athlete's life, especially when it strikes the brain.

But now a team of Florida researchers say they're finding our last line of protection isn't doing enough.  Two neurologists say for the first time, there is evidence that helmets don't protect well against traumatic brain injuries.  And they have the results to prove it.

The moments can be game-changing.  In some cases, life-altering.  And the only thing between the player's head and every impact is some thick padding and hard plastic.

Dr. Frank Conidi, a concussion expert, said, "There is no way to completely prevent a concussion but we can reduce the risk."

And reduction could come from a simple drop of a test dummy helmet.

Dr. John Lloyd, brain researcher, said, "These helmets do go a long way but we believe there is plenty of opportunity for improvement."

Inside a Florida garage Doctor John Lloyd and Doctor Frank Conidi are working on what they call the most in-depth study of its kind.  Conidi is a sports concussion specialist and expert who is the team neurologist for the NHL's Florida Panthers and consults for the NFL and major league baseball.  Lloyd is a published researcher with two decades of experience in brain injuries.  Right now, the two are teaming up to discover how well football helmets protect against traumatic brain injury.  They say the test itself mirrors the industry standard but with one major modification.

Dr. Lloyd said, "This is the first time that rotational forces have been taken into consideration in testing of football helmets and helmets for other sports."

That's because the dummy head has a neck.  And the head has nine sensors inside measuring the force of impact.  It's raised several feet in the air then falls nearly 14 miles per hour into a steel plate.  Researchers say every drop sends data showing how well a helmet protects against not only skull fracture but traumatic brain injury as well.

Dr. Lloyd continues, "A person can survive a head injury such as a skull fracture. The skull will heal. But we are learning the brain may not always perfectly heal."

And after dozens of helmets from all different eras are dropped, all score well when it comes to protecting the skull.  But when it comes to the brain the researchers say the preliminary data is showing a much different story.

Dr. Conidi said, "Now we're seeing bench evidence here that helmets do little to protect against concussion."

The researchers say, on average, wearing the helmets only reduces the concussion risk by 20 percent.  But the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or "NOCSAE," says not so fast.

Mike Oliver, Executive Director of NOCSAE, said, "I think it's wrong to say that helmets don't provide protection against rotational accelerations, they do."

"NOCSAE" tests and certifies football helmets for safety.  Executive Director Mike Oliver spoke with Local 12's sister station, WSYX, and says the committee is looking into adding rotational forces as a testing criteria in the near future.  Oliver urges caution for parents when drawing conclusions based on this or other studies.  Still, researchers stand behind their methods and say the study brought out some surprises.

A 1930's leather helmet protected the brain better than several modern helmets.  Lloyd thinks it's because it's smaller and lighter so there's less weight added to rotation of the head during an impact.  Oliver says he offers this to parents looking to get the best helmet for their kids.

"The best helmet is either new or reconditioned or re-certified but more importantly, the one that fits the best.  Because fit we think is as important if not more important than design," said Oliver.

Concussions may never completely disappear from it, but researchers believe we are moving toward reducing them.  The doctors present their findings at the American Academy of Neurology meeting Wednesday.
For more about their research CLICK HERE.

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