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Recently I have found it troubling that many former athletes that I admired when I competed at Western have had very serious mental health problems. Two of the finest coaches have had multiple strokes which has adversely effected their mental capacity to be able to function.

When I wrote the column, "Elite Athletes" I received a troubling email from a college athlete who has had eight concussions, with two very severe, while competing for his university. God willing he hopes to stay healthy to be able to compete in the next summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil.

I Googled the words "concussion and strokes" and I discovered the reality of the adverse effects of contact sports and an athleteís long term health.

The findings of concussions and strokes came to light at the same time as 4,000 former football players have filed lawsuits alleging that the National Football league failed to protect them from the long-term consequences of concussions.

Here is what I have learned. "Concussion causes temporary loss of brain function leading to cognitive, physical and emotional symptoms, such as confusion, vomiting, headache, nausea, depression, disturbed sleep, moodiness and amnesia."

However, even when the symptoms of concussion appear to have gone away, the brain is not yet 100% normal according to Dr Maryse Lassonde. A neuropsychologist, she has previously worked alongside members of the Montreal Canadians hockey team members who had suffered from severe head trauma, undertaking research into severe head trauma and the long-term effects it can have on athletes.

She carried out visual and auditory tests among the athletes who suffered from concussion, as well as testing their brain chemistry, to better evaluate the extent of the damage to the brain after a severe hit.

The results indicate that there is abnormal brain wave activity for many years after a concussion as well as partial wasting away of the motor pathways which can lead to significant attention deficit problems.

Older athletes who suffered from concussions may have symptoms similar to the dreaded Parkinsonís disease.

Head injuries seem to affect the risk for strokes. 30% of strokes hit people under the age of 65. Those who have had a concussion or other traumatic brain injury might make the risk of strokes more likely.

Traumatic brain injuries scar blood vessels in the brain making them more vulnerable to strokes. The increase was found in ischemic stroke victims which in turn cause a blood clot blocking a vessel in the brain.

In addition, further tests revealed that the older athletes who had suffered from concussion experienced a thinning of the cortex in the same part of the brain that Alzheimer affects.

Who could forget Eric Lindros, the elite National Hockey League player, convulsing on the ice after being hit by an elbow to his head? Eric had multiple devastating concussions. But for the most part he has never been the same after a series of at least eight blows to the head.

"You do not talk about these things", says Lindros, "and admit that you are depressed". The concussions had transformed him, both as a man and as a hockey player. His negative anxiety level affected his self confidence and nearly his life.

The 6ft 4in, 255lb former hockey player is now speaking out warning parents and athletes of the hazards of contact sports for the long term health of the competitors.

I feel angry that the coaches/ team doctor for the most part have not been aware of the implications and for the most part do not really care for the well being of their players.

Many athletes and their families pay the ultimate price of playing the game - their health. The sages teach us that: a young man will often sacrifice his health for the applause/money and a middle aged man will gladly give up all his wealth and fame for health but it often is too little too late.

Faced with the facts, a brave young man will decide to focus on his health and say adieu to his sport to focus on his priorities-his life. Those who truly love him will accept the reality and applaud the very difficult decision he has made.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com