With Will Smith lending his star power for the movie "Concussion," public awareness is building on the dangers of head injuries. Adding to that dialogue is a local expert who encourages parents to be informed as their children participate in contact sports.
"I think that there have been many people that are stepping out that are professional people, football players, hockey players, that are putting a face to this disorder," said Dr. Jennifer McVige, who specializes in Pediatric Neurology, Headache and Neuroimaging at Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst.
She also speaks on concussions for the Buffalo Bills and serves as a neurologist for the Buffalo Sabres.
"Before there was the attitude, 'Oh, just get back in there buddy; tough it up; you can get through this.' Now, we are seeing these little kids that are injured grow into adults (who) are having trouble processing. The same with these professional players that if they have multiple concussions, they can have trouble."
According to Dr. McVige, headaches remain the hallmark sign of a possible concussion. There are other more troubling symptoms.
"Dizziness, imbalance, we call them vestibular signs. Inability to track things visually. There is some nausea that can happen. There's attention and concentration problems, so you feel like you're...'foggy.' People also say that I just feel like I'm running through quicksand."
High school athletic departments are working to educate coaches when it comes to identifying those signs. That focus has been extended to youth coaches.
With research warning of the long-term effects of concussions, more parents are pausing before allowing their children to participate in football and other contact sports.
"What I see nowadays in practice is that a lot of the kids that have had severe concussions are these kids that are exhausted. They're overprogrammed," said Dr. McVige of what she sees in patients, some just seven-years-old.
"They're doing a sport, it's not just hockey or football, but they have too many things going on. By the end of the school day, then they have the practice, then they have their homework. They go through life exhausted."