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New chin strap flashes red to warn of potential concussions

Former NHL player Keith Primeau shows the Battle Sports Science Impact Indicator installed in a helmet during a concussion news conference in Toronto on Monday November 14, 2011.Primeau and were announcing new initiatives in the battle to reduce and better treat concussions in sport.


Paul Rosen thought getting over the loss of one leg was tough – until he found out how debilitating it is to recover from a concussion.

The 2006 gold medal winner at the Paralympics and 2010 sledge hockey goalie for Canada in Vancouver, Rosen learned that a goalie on a sled with a disability is a sitting duck.

"When I lost my leg, I adapted to not having a leg. I did whatever I could do and played the game of sledge hockey for years. Now, with the post concussion syndrome, there's days when I don't get out of bed, the symptoms of fatigue and depression are so heavy," Rosen said at the launch of a U.S.-manufactured chin strap called the Impact Indicator.

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The device, endorsed by former NHL star Keith Primeau, is designed to measure the forces absorbed by the head over time. Though not yet approved for hockey helmets by the Canadian Standards Association, the Impact Indicator is being endorsed by Primeau, the former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers. It costs about $200, lasts for two years and is being worn in the United States by more than a thousand youth football players, says Chris Circo, president of manufacturer Battle Sports Science. It has applications in other contact sports such as lacrosse and hockey, he said.

The launch brought together a host of anti-concussion bodies including a national concussion alliance; a Peterborough, Ont., based movement to establish baseline brain functions for students from age 10 upward; and the Eric Pelly Fund for concussed athletes.

Rosen's explanation of the lingering effects of concussion provided a vivid reason why many groups are looking for a solution to a syndrome that used to be shrugged off as "getting one's bell rung."

"It's the toughest thing I dealt with in my entire life, right now. I'm 52 and ending my career, so it was depressing to begin with.

"Vancouver was great. There were people screaming and yelling, despite the fact we didn't win. But that's over with now ... and there's a combined depression that sets in between the career ending, missing the camaraderie of being on a team and the hits to my head," he said. He was subject to the cannon-hard shots of teammate Billy Bridges and to a headfirst collision with the sledge of an Estonian player when Rosen went aggressively for the puck.

"I had a rough time for months. Back then, we weren't with Hockey Canada. Back then, our trainer was a volunteer and he had no clue [of the concussion] They just wanted me to play. I was told to suck it up and get back in goal.

"Now we are [governed by Hockey Canada]and everyone's been educated. Now, there's no way I could get away with getting a hit like that and playing the next day or whatever until I'd been checked out."

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Primeau said the Impact Indicator doesn't prevent concussions but indicates when someone should come out of a game. Information is a weapon in the fight against concussions, he said. People can have an objective measurement rather than just subjective judgment of coaches, teachers, administrators and even physicians on the sidelines.

A concussion can happen without loss of consciousness and without immediate symptoms. "I didn't show signs of concussion until 24 or 48 hours later, so to have that ability to recognize there's been a forceful impact is invaluable," Primeau said. He still experiences concussion effects. "The most significant lasting symptoms are headaches, bouts of fatigue, lethargy and head pressure – I'm still not able to exercise at high energy levels because it makes me light headed."

The Impact Indicator has a green light and a red one – the latter being illuminated when forces reach a 50-per-cent probability of a concussion, a company-supplied explanation says. A player shouldn't take any more head blows at that point. The company says it chose to use a conservative number "because we would rather over report than under report head injury in kids."

Still, says Circo, old-school coaches and players – especially hockey players – resist the technology.

"NHL players have said 'No thanks, I don't want anything I wear to indicate I have to be taken off the ice.' You have a different mentality at the pro level. ... Even some football players in skill positions have said 'if I'm hurt, I'm hurt; I'm staying in the game,'" Circo said.

"We have a lot of coaches who don't want their kids wearing the product ... but the mentality is starting to change."

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Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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