With 35,000 head injuries affecting New Zealanders every year, a group of experts have gathered in Hawke's Bay to "put their heads together" in an attempt to address the high rate of concussions.

The inaugural two-day Brain Storm: Heads Together For Concussion Conference was spearheaded by Geneva Healthcare and ABI Rehabilitation, and ends today at the Havelock North Function Centre.

Geneva Healthcare marketing spokesperson Diane Jones said the conference, the first of its kind in New Zealand, was aimed at helping clinicians and experts in the industry join together to find ways to reduce the sometimes permanent brain damage caused by concussions.

"Every year there's about 35,000 affected by concussion and some of them can have very grave consequences going forward in life," she said.


"This is a bid for the industry to come up with some solutions to lessen the numbers [of affected people], and control and manage it."

About 150 attendees will hear from international experts on a range of topics, from managing concussion in New Zealand, sports concussion, to advice on returning to work.

Brain Injury Association Hawke's Bay chairman Brett Morris said this conference was a good step in changing attitudes, and raising awareness around such injuries.

ACC figures show that in the 12 months to June 2017 there were 484 traumatic brain injury claims lodged by people in Hawke's Bay. There have since been another 195 claims to the end of October.

Compared to the rest of the country, Mr Morris said Hawke's Bay could have a proportionately higher rate of concussions because of the nature of the workforce here, however he felt it would be fairly consistent.

The chairman knew the effects of head injuries well, having had to take a year off university after a concussion. Like many sports players he did not take it seriously.

"I went back on the pitch and indeed discharged myself from hospital afterwards. I had a kind of, 'it'll be all right, just take a concrete pill and harden up' attitude.

"This is what we're trying to get across to people, that if you don't deal with it properly you can have problems," he said. "Common things are bad headaches, you can't concentrate, you dislike noise and loud music will upset you, you become very irritable."


To increase awareness the association has run a number of initiatives, including the Blue Card - recently adopted by the New Zealand Rugby Union - which gives sporting referees power to send players off if concussed, and require them to have medical clearance before returning.

Growing awareness meant "harden up" mentalities were slowly changing, but needed more buy-in from people.

"You hear stories from school rugby matches where parents want their kid to get back on the pitch and play on. You have coaches not wanting a player to come off because they're an important player, not realising that its far better to have them off the pitch rather than him having problems for six months and not playing."

ACC figures showed there were 496 claims lodged by Hawke's Bay residents in the 2015/2016 year, up from 284 in the 2014/2015 year.

Today, about 150 attendees will return to the Function Centre to learn more from their fellow clinicians and researchers working in concussion management, debating the hot topics and controversies, and getting updates on the latest trends.

The conference features an impressive array of speakers, including Auckland University of Technology associate professor Dr Alice Theadom, Concussion Care Centre of Virginia CEO and medical director Nathan D. Zasler, and New York's the University at Buffalo Concussion Management Clinic director John J. Leddy.

The conference is set to cover topics that include managing concussion in New Zealand, sports concussion, psychological management, and return to work.

ACC guidelines recommend a person who has had concussion should not play sport or train for three weeks after the injury.

- For more information about the first such conference go to genevabrainstorm.com