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Catawba Student Researches Link Between Head Injuries and Alzheimer's


ResearchLindsay Smith of Salisbury contends that her research data supports her theory that there is a correlation between head injuries and Alzheimer's disease. The research she outlined in a paper presented at a super-regional convention of Alpha Chi, national college honor society, was so convincing to the scholarship committee that it won her an Alpha Chi Region III scholarship.

Smith, 21, is a rising senior athletic training and exercise science major at Catawba College. This past fall, she conducted the research under the supervision of research advisor, Dr. James Hand, an assistant professor of athletic training and director of athletic training education. She presented her research this spring.

Smith chose her research topic because her grandparents suffered from Alzheimer's disease. In addition, her mother has suffered from several concussions, which could affect her long term. "If there's any way we can stop it [Alzheimer's disease] or slow down the process or prevent it, I am greatly interested in it," Smith said.

ResearchShe investigated the claims of current research that evidence exists of a correlation between head injuries and Alzheimer's disease as well between head injuries and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). She chose to focus on the correlation between head injuries and Alzheimer's disease.

Smith's research resulted from her review of numerous journal articles concerning Alzheimer's disease, head injuries, and even a case study about a person who suffered a head injury and later developed Alzheimer's. From her review, she postulated her theory that the two were related. She outlined her theory and data to support it in her research paper.

Dr. Margy Stahr, advisor to Catawba's chapter of Alpha Chi, helped Lindsay put the finishing touches on the research paper that she submitted to the Alpha Chi Region III scholarship committee. Stahr called the topic "relevant," particularly in light of the fact that the NFL has recently imposed changes to the rules of the game that are meant to protect players from dangerous blows to the head.

 "I think Lindsay's research – which also pointed to the potentially enormous financial toll that such injuries could have in terms of healthcare spending as greater numbers of athletes age – was noticed by the [Alpha Chi] scholarship committee not only because it was well-crafted, but also because her topic is so timely," Stahr said.

"I'm really proud of Lindsay and of all the Catawba students who conduct research and who then share the knowledge that they have gained with broader audiences," Stahr continued. "I think sometimes undergraduates assume that they don't know very much, or that what they are learning isn't very original. But it is, and it is important that Catawba find more ways to support student and faculty travel to forums where they can present their work."

Smith's research advisor, Dr. James Hand, concurred with Stahr on the importance of undergraduate research like that conducted by Smith. "Evidence based practice (or decision making) is a very important skill that we stress in our accredited Athletic Training Education program. We want our students to know why a decision is made and "because our professor told us" is not an acceptable way to make decisions. We want our students to be informed based on the current evidence that is available. Sometimes this contradicts texts and lectures, but will encourage students to be free thinkers.

"Lindsay is a very diligent student who is driven by intellectual curiosity, which is hard to instill in undergraduate students. She will do well in graduate school, and I predict that her future will include a doctoral degree and published research that will benefit the athletic training and allied health fields," Hand concluded.

Looking back on her research process, Smith explained, "One thing that really surprised me about my research was how complex the material that I read was. It was difficult to understand at first, but as I reread it and explained it to myself, I began to really understand it and comprehend it. The second thing was that I really wasn't expecting to get anything out of my research except the knowledge, so when I got the scholarship I was pretty shocked.

"I feel like I understand Alzheimer's disease better and how it physically develops. As an athletic training student and a health care professional, it has made me realize how severe head injuries can be and how long-lasting their effects can be."  

Asked how this research might affect or steer her in the future, Smith said, "I'm hoping to go on to grad school and research this more and possibly look more into the CTE aspect of it."


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