Thu, 01 Jun 2023

Dr. Julie Stamm's Background

In this premiere podcast of Kids' Brains Matter, host Bruce Parkman, Founder of Mac Parkman Foundation interviews Dr. Julie Stamm, athletic trainer and Professor of Kinesiology at University of Wisconsin. As an athlete herself, Stamm has a life-long love of sports. She received her Ph. D in anatomy and neurobiology from Boston University in CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and long-term consequences. Out of her research and athlete interactions, Stamm started to wonder, "What happens to the brain when heads are hit repeatedly as kids? What is that doing to the developing brain?" Questions Stamm.

Understanding the consequences among parents, staff, trainers, coaches and the entire athletic community will be the key to lowering and eliminating risk.

Listen to Host Bruce Parkman's interview with Dr. Julie Stamm here

Understanding the Consequences of Repetitive Impacts

"We used to not treat concussions seriously. We thought you could have smelling salts and be back on the field in no time. If we weren't taking concussions seriously, we weren't even thinking about repetitive hits, said Stamm.

Rising questions have led to deeper study into concussions. "In the last decade we have learned that repeated hits change the brain. We see it on all sorts of imaging, the pathways in the brain, the way that the brain is functioning, chemical levels changes in the brain... And these are in individuals who have not had concussions. One season of impacts can make a difference," emphasized Stamm.

Historically, concussions have been the area of focus and the link between an impacted brain and mental illness, psychological disorders and cognitive decline. A current shift of focus on repetitive hits, opens the door to understand the effect on the child's brain.

How is the Child's brain affected as they transition to adulthood?

Stamm clarifies that "sub-concussive impacts and repetitive head impacts are the impacts that happen on every play in some sports or anytime that there's a collision that doesn't result in symptoms ...the symptoms of a concussion. But, they are still affecting the brain because the brain is still moving in the skull. Over time, those hits add up!" Confirmed the Dr.

She studied former NFL players and saw differences in the brain, based on when they started playing football. "They were in their 40's, 50's, 60's and we could still divide them based on how old they were when they started tackling and started experiencing those repetitive impacts." said Stamm. The Dr. further explained that they also saw differences in the brain regarding learning, memory, apathy and depression in players from high school through the NFL. She recognized that "we actually saw differences in their actual brain."

How can we get parents and the sports community to identify CTE concerns?

Stamm says that the key to understanding the relationship between mental health and impact sports is to actually talk about it. The developing brain and further research is critical, "we need to understand that what we do to our brains when we are younger is going to affect our brain as we develop and grow. It needs to be a shift in both medicine and also research," Stamm said. She further reiterates that "we have just never applied these principles to repetitive trauma." When discussing its relationship to mental illness, she suggests that, "It could be a piece of what's contributing... many mental health related things are multifaceted...but hitting your head repeatedly is not helping."

Stamm recognizes, "I am not a mental health expert...but being aware if your child has a concussion, noticing the little things, asking questions... creating a culture where we talk about it [mental health and concussive trauma] and it is normalized would assist in people being able to talk about these issues. Sub-concussive education is needed to create a healthier athlete and sports community. This CTE awareness only enhances the incredible experience of participating in sports.

The Benefits of Sports

Sports are great! Stamm points out that "all parents want the best for their kids and part of that is sports participation... We know that kids who are physically active are more likely to be physically active adults. The mental health benefits...being part of a team...It physically changes the brain for the better. We want all kids to have those opportunities. The social aspects; the emotional health. Being able to process success and defeat. There are so many life lessons that we can learn from sports."

Stamm further discusses how delaying the start of repetitive impact sports at a young age, but keeping the opportunities to play, still improves athlete health. Stamm recognizes that "it has been interesting to see some sports that have delayed the main contact within their sport...Like hockey has delayed the age of checking to 13. And more kids are playing. Adapting sports and limiting body impacts seem like the most logical step in prevention of traumas."

Listen to the complete interview with host Bruce Parkman here


The Mac Parkman Foundation for Adolescent Concussive Trauma Vision: To create a centralized community of trust for parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and athletes to learn about the risks of concussive related trauma for our youth, particularly focusing on the risks of multiple concussions, sub-concussive trauma and long-term management and identification of issues including physical pain/trauma, depression, and other related mental health issues.

Our Mission: To serve as a source of information, resources, and communications to the community of parents, coaches/Athletic trainers, medical staff, and athletes that are affected by sports-related concussions and to raise awareness of the long-term implications of concussive and sub-concussive trauma to our children to include physical pain and emotional/mental health issues such as depression, personality disorders, and other mental health issues. We will support this mission through collaboration with other sports, medical, educational, and military organizations, advertising, fundraising, and communications.

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