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WORLD FOCUS: Concussion in sports, how to improve player safety

I have known Laurence Geller, the chairman of the International Churchill Society for more than a decade and readers of my Lake Placid News column had become familiar with many of his accomplishments.

Geller always comes up with ideas and solutions that can be adopted anywhere and contributes to the betterment of people’s lives.

He is a British-born, U.S.-based expert in the fields of hospitality, specialized education and dementia care. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Geller Capital Partners and Innovative Aged Care, the UK’s leading dementia focused residential care facilities. He is also known as a very generous philanthropist whose contribution and leadership of the Society, helps preserve the memory and legacy of Winston Churchill.

“Churchill’s life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world,” Geller said in an interview.

He maintains, Churchill’s leadership qualities are applicable in all human endeavors.

What I was not aware off about Geller was his determination to do something about minimizing the risk of concussion in contact sports. He played rugby for England at school and subsequently become a great sports fan, chairing the rugby charity Atlas Foundation and observing with dismay the consequences of concussion in contact sports.

Concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury. Repeated concussions are a known cause of various neurological disorders. The dangers of repeated concussion have been known since 1928, affecting boxers. But awareness of the risk of concussion in other sports began to attract public attention only in the 1990s, and since then has grown considerably as the potential linkage to dementia becomes increasingly known.

In 2012, the four major professional sport leagues in the U.S. and Canada established policies for managing concussion risk. They concentrated on athletic training and evaluating the consequences of concussion suffered while engaged in contact sports.

This did not escape Geller’s attention. Now, participating in a British government intervention with Simon Shaw, Geller has set up a charity called “Love of the Game.” The initiative seeks to unite the fields of sports, technology, innovation, entrepreneurialism, commerce and academia, to identify, invest and implement innovative solutions to mitigate health risks arising in many sports.

It brings together two of Geller’s passions: a love of sports and dedication to research and care of those living with dementia.

Geller is considered one of the foremost authorities in the area of dementia care and he is funding nationwide dementia care research and training. When he gets involved in a project, it takes off.

To get Winston Churchill’s papers into the hands of British school children, he donated $1 million to Bloomsbury Publishing. Geller is often called a “serial philanthropist.”

As chancellor of his alma mater, the University of West London, Geller, is funding the first master’s degree in dementia care. In addition, he is also funding its Geller Institute of Aging and Memory which provides the UK’s first nationally accredited courses in dementia care.

The British government recently held a major summit presided over by Culture Secretary of State Oliver Dowden in conjunction with Geller, that acknowledged, that brain injuries in sports are becoming a looming problem. Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston and leading British sports figures participated, making recommendations on how to safeguard and protect the welfare of players of all ages and all levels and protect the games that are so important to national psyche and well being.

Adopting Geller’s recommendations on dementia care could make the difference between how life with dementia after a sport injury unfolds and remove fear from so many players of any age and their families.

In a previous interview, Geller said, “My goal is to get people off of as many of the psychotropic drugs as possible, giving them carefully planned meals, general physical and mental exercise with trained caregivers who are not overworked and can provide one-on-one attention.”

According to published data, the lifespan of dementia residents at Geller’s established Loveday branded Aged Care facilities is two and a half years longer than anticipated. More importantly, the data shows, they lives are joyful and dignified.

Learning about Geller’s involvement in the British government’s initiative to address the problem of brain injuries in sport’s, and the Dec. 1, 2020 launch of “Love of the Game,” has quickly generated over one thousand members and 10 corporate sponsors. This is clearly a movement who’s time has come.

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(Frank Shatz is a former Lake Placid resident and currently lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns.)