The guides — one aimed at young people and the other at parents, teachers and coaches — set out in age-appropriate terms the warning signs of concussion and how the brain injury should be treated.
"These guides are not only a valuable tool for athletics, but equally apply to assist parents, educators and anyone who works with children and youth to better identify when young people have suffered a brain injury and then follow the right process to access and practise best care," said Dr. Ian Dawe.
Dawe, physician-in-chief of the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, made the comments Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where the Brain Injury Guides were unveiled.
The guides, available online at www.teenmentalhealth.org, explain that concussions aren't minor injuries that can just be shaken off, but potentially serious brain traumas that can have long-lasting repercussions.
A concussion is caused by an intense, rapid movement of the brain inside the skull, which results in damage that changes how brain cells function. Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, cognitive problems such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating, and emotional effects, such as depression and irritability.
A person who has had one concussion, especially if not given time to fully recover, has an increased risk of sustaining subsequent concussions that can result in permanent physical, emotional and cognitive deficits.
"We are now understanding, I think for the first time, the importance of brain and brain health," said psychiatrist Stan Kutcher of Dalhousie University, principal author of the guides.
"It's essential to know how best to help our brains grow and develop, and how best to take care of them," Kutcher said via a Skype hookup from Halifax.
While concussions have been a hot topic in the world of sports — the brain injury sidelined NHL superstar Sidney Crosby for much of the last two seasons — they can happen to anyone who suffers a bad blow to the head or jarring of the brain, often resulting from a fall.
"Whether you're six or 86, concussions happen, whether you're curling, whether you're walking down the street, whether you're riding a bike," said Kerry Goulet, a former European pro hockey player and co-founder of the online concussion awareness site www.stopconcussions.com.
"It's not (only) about athletes that play in the professional leagues," said Goulet. "It's athletes that ski on a bunny hill in Mont Tremblant, it's playing in the gymnasium or playing at recess.... We have players, 10-, 11-, 12-year-old boys and girls that are walking in darkness. They're unable to continue on playing sport.
"Let's forget sport, even going to school," he said, citing the case of an 11-year-old boy who suffered a concussion playing hockey and is now trying to "learn how to do his ABCs once again."
But getting the message through to young people — who often have a sense of invincibility — can be a challenge, conceded Keith Primeau, who had multiple concussions during his 15-year National Hockey League career and still suffers post-concussive syndrome to this day.
Primeau, who retired from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006 because of his symptoms, said parents and other adults have a responsibility to make sure children understand the dangers of concussion and what must be done for a full recovery.
Treatment primarily involves rest — avoiding both physical and mental activities that could do further damage to the brain — and following strict rules about when it's safe to slowly resume those activities.
"We get the fact that kids aren't necessarily going to sit and read material on concussion or brain injury," said Primeau, who also helped found stopconcussions.com.
"But somehow getting the information to a family member, a team member, who then can bring that material is the best way to get the information to the kids. And we can only do that if we continue to be informing the parents repeatedly in order to impress that on them."
The guides are also available for download at www.ontarioshores.ca, where printed copies in booklet form can also be ordered.