Bill focusing on student athlete safety heard in Senate

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JEFFERSON CITY - A bill setting guidelines for diagnosing and preventing brain injuries in student athletes was set to be heard in the Senate Thursday.

The Interscholastic Youth Sports Brain Injury Prevention Act focuses on safety and the protection against long-term injury to youth athletes. It also outlines several steps young athletes must complete before competing.

The first step requires each school district to distribute a concussion and brain injury information sheet for parents and guardians of student athletes to sign.

Athletes also have to be tested for existing brain injuries. These tests include neurocognitive, neuromotor, balance and vestibular.

Neurocognitive tests evaluate how the brain comprehends information and how a person responds to tasks. Neuromotor testing measures the strength of a person's extremities. Balance and vestibular testing is used to examine coordination.

The bill also states all previous brain injuries and concussions must be documented. Neurologist Dr. Komal Ashraf said the more injuries an athlete sustains, the worse it gets.

"It is kind of a compounded effect," Ashraf said. "The more injuries that somebody has, the increased likelihood for having long-term consequences."

Ashraf said this is especially true for younger brains.

"Younger brains are still developing and there is less room in the skull for the brain to move around," Ashraf said. "As you get older, there does become more space which does allow more room to move."

In order to prevent long-term damage, the bill would create return-to-play guidelines for athletes who suffer an injury. Ashraf said neurologists use a simple phrase as their policy.

"Our motivation, our M.O. is: when in doubt, sit it out," Ashraf said, "because there can be long-term consequences."

The bill also states that student athletes, their guardians, staff and coaches must receive training on how to handle concussions. 

The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Veterans' Affairs and Health Committee at 8:30 Thursday morning.