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Rugby: Consequences of concussion can be ‘serious’ says expert

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Last week (April 28) 43-year-old Ex-England rugby player Steve Thompson opened up about his worsening symptoms of dementia after suffering repeat concussions. “I was sharing a house with a guy that I was working with and he said ‘you must remember this’, and I was ‘I can’t even remember being there.” Thompson told BBC Breakfast. One problem with concussions is that they can be hard to detect as they’re not visible on MRI or CT scans, meaning that people continue with business as usual rather than give their brain rest.

But the British startup MYndspan is trying to change all that.

They’ve created a testing solution they say will make it easier for sportspeople to spot signs of a concussion so they can make better decisions about their activities.

Janne Huhtala, MYndspan co-founder said: “Currently, individuals are deciding to go back to play based on how they feel – a decision that can have life-changing consequences.

“We think athletes deserve to have objective information about where they are in their recovery, to make the best and most informed decisions.”

They are currently beta testing a proprietary brain scanner which they claim can provide an “objective” glimpse at the brain health and spot conditions such as PTSD and concussion.

The business, founded in 2020, uses a brain-scanning machine called a Magnetoencephalography (MEG) that measures electrical signals between neurons to create a detailed map of brain activity.

This is done whilst the person being scanned plays games that test cognitive function.

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Although the technology is only in its early stages, it has already received support from former England Rugby player Vicky Macqueen and CEO of Didi Rugby.

Macqueen said she uses it to make sure her players can play the sport safely and that the technology is “helping” her “get more kids into sports, safely”.

The technology can be used, the business explains, to measure brain health before a season and use this as a baseline.

The brain health can be measured again after a concussion or after treatment, giving players the ability to track their recovery.

Research has shown that traumatic brain injury is a major risk factor for the onset of dementia.

One 2018 study, published in the PLOS Medical journal, found that concussion can increase the risk of developing dementia three decades after the injury.

MYndspan, which is offering free scans at the moment to test its product, is available to the public at Aston University Institute of Health and Neurodevelopment.

Their public testing follows successful pilot studies at the SickKids Hospital in Toronto Canada and The University of Helsinki.

It has garnered the support of Doctor Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and author of the Guardian blog “Brain Flapping”.

He said: “I’m a big proponent of anything that helps people understand their brains better, and MYndspan’s new high-tech but easily accessible approach looks to be extremely useful in that regard.

“My own physical and mental health and fitness took a big hit during lockdown, and I turn 40 this year, so for the first time in my life I’m working hard to fix that.

“But as a scientist, I’m very keen on gathering data and tracking it, to show my progress. MYndspan offers the perfect opportunity to assess how my brain is doing too, which is ideal for me.”

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