Concussion care for New Zealanders


Concussion care for New Zealanders


When we are thinking of buying a red car, we see red cars everywhere right? Whilst as a health care professional who has a special interest in the diagnosis, management and treatment of concussion, the almost weekly articles in the press these days, feels way more than 'red car syndrome' to me.

They tell us of the devastating consequences of multiple concussions that former great athletes are enduring or how they likely contributed to a premature death. Stories of former athletes who are suffering from significant cognitive issues such as pre-senile dementia whilst in their 40’s is no longer uncommon, or the changes being observed in the brains of deceased former elite athletes in America and the link to repetitive head and body blows they received makes for alarming reading.

With what we know about concussions today, the management of professional sports stars, whom we watch on television playing contact sports such as rugby and football (soccer) getting "knocked into next week", only to see them  miraculously reappear 15 minutes later after passing their ‘HIA' (Head Injury Assessment) and continue playing, should simply not be happening.  Then we have our weekend warriors playing all kinds of codes of sport, some with the support of pitch-side medical care, many without.  Some with adequate knowledge of how to identify whether a concussion has occurred, however many don’t have this knowledge and as such, are playing Russian Roulette with the long term health of those they should be safeguarding.

My special interest in concussion and how it's managed in New Zealand stemmed from witnessing, the consequences of mis-management of a family member, who sustained three significant impacts to her head and body whilst playing in a rugby tournament three and a half years ago.

After sustaining her third hit, she was 'pink carded' and stood down from the game. However, unfortunately for her, significant trauma had already occurred to her brain from the previous blows.

Due to the serious condition she was in after the final blow, including a collapsed lung, understandably not as much attention was given to the ongoing cognitive issues she was clearly experiencing in the days and weeks after the injury.  This is not a blame game here, but rather, sadly illustrating an all too common scenario occurring in both professional an amateur sport here in NZ.

Due to the nature of sport and the collisions occurring within it, sport related Concussions (SRC's) is understandably an area that has received some attention in terms of study and research, due to the relatively high number of SRC's occurring.

In some parts of New Zealand there is some provision for early assessment of athletes who have suffered a concussion if it occurred within the 2 week post-injury window.  After that point, athletes with concussions suffered more than two weeks prior and all non SRC’s enter the ACC Concussion Service.

This unfortunately can lead to a lengthy spell of sometimes up to 3 months and sometimes longer, where the concussed patient waits to be seen for the initial consult in the service, as demand for the service far exceeds supply. According to ACC between 2016-2021 approximately 21,000 concussion related claims were lodged (ACC/Te kaporeihana A'whina Hunga Wara 25-4-22).

That Said, an estimated 35,000 people per year suffer a mild Traumatic brain injury in NZ, so approximately 13,000 people year suffer a concussion but do not get their injury checked by a health care provider.

Research has Shown that, literally, each week where a concussed patient is not seen by a health care provider, their health outcomes deteriorate accordingly.

So here's the 'kicker'. We know each week people are not getting their treatment needs met, the end result is not going to be as positive as it could and should have been and yet New Zealanders are still simply having to wait too long. Just this week, it was reported in Stuff that people with head trauma wait for an average of 60 days before seeing a concussion clinic, and such delays are a long standing issue. Our system here, also relies heavily on the patient or their whanau to drive the process of seeking the right medical care. This, when people are often already struggling with diminished cognitive abilities often hinders the process of getting a referral and adequately advocating for their own health.

So if you, or someone you know has suffered a concussion, being pro-active and be the 'squeaky wheel' if necessary to ensure you/they have not dropped through the cracks in the ACC Concussion Service.

Whilst up to 80% of patients who have suffered a concussion will fully recover within 4- 6 weeks post injury, the remaining 20% can end up struggling for years with prolonged concussion symptoms (PCS). Whilst people in this category can still recover, naturally it may be more of a challenge.

So no matter where you might be on your concussion recovery journey, symptoms such as headaches, balance problems, dizziness, difficulty falling asleep, cognitive impairments and low energy can resolve, with the right care and strategies in place.

At Head Wise Concussion Care, we offer a free 15 minute Telehealth 'discovery' session so that we can see how we may be able to help you and discuss what services we have may be of benefit to you.

So please don't live with symptoms you have been putting up with. None of us can be the best versions of ourselves when we are in pain, as parents, partners or employees or enjoy life as it is meant to be enjoyed.

Contact us to see how we can help you on your concussion recovery journey.

Andy Gibson 09 3606026