of traumatic brain injury in the United States
of Pittsburgh Medical Center sports concussion researchers study
new football helmet at area high schools this fall
in Doubt, the Athlete Stays Out: Guidelines for High School Team
One in ten high school football players suffers a head injury each year. Athletes
donâ€™t like to be sidelined, but a concussion can kill if it is ignored.
As this ScienCentral News video reports, a computer program can determine when
itâ€™s safe for an athlete to get back in the game.
Blow to the Brain
If your kid suffered a blow to the head during a soccer game a couple of years
ago, someone would have held their hand to her face and asked, “How
many fingers is this?” or “Who is the President of the United
States?” to check if she was alright. But today, sheâ€™d be sitting
in front of a computer that generates shapes and images to objectively test
her brain function.
(Micky) Collins, a neuropsychologist and assistant director of the University
of Pittsburgh Center for Sports Medicineâ€™s Concussion Program,and
developed a system called ImPACT
(Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing).This is the first
computerized testing method of post-concussion evaluation to determine when
it is safe for an athlete to return to sports after suffering a concussion.
Itâ€™s comprised of a series of questions that measures different aspects
of the brainâ€™s function.
Whether itâ€™s football, soccer, wrestling, or any other contact sport,
Collins says there is always the risk that athletes could suffer a head injury.
In a concussion, says Collins, “the brain jostles around inside the
cavity of the skull which results in what we call metabolic disturbances,
or thereâ€™s damage that occurs in the brain, and depending on the biomechanics
of the blow youâ€™ll have different areas of the brain function that are
affected.” He cautions that often when the athlete is not knocked unconscious,
the symptoms of a concussion are ignored or neglected. Collins points out
that some of the symptoms include, “Difficulty with cognition, difficulty
with memory, difficulty paying attention, short-term memory loss, subtle personality
changes like being more irritable, being more emotional, and sleep problems.
He says, “Its almost as if your Pentium III computer becomes your Pentium
II or Pentium I, the brain just slows down, its not able to process information
When an athlete returns to play without recovering completely from a concussion,
he or she is more likely to encounter a second impact which is a “catastrophic
response of mismanaging a concussion”, according to Collins. The athlete
could slip into a coma and die in less than five minutes after the second
blow to the head. Traditional tests like fMRI
(functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT
Scans (Computed Tomography Imaging ) are not sensitive to concussions
and therefore cannot determine when itâ€™s safe for an athlete to return
to play. Thatâ€™s where the ImPACT system is advantageous; it puts the
brain to work to better determine which areas are working well and which areas
are not. “Itâ€™s like giving the brain a physical”, says Collins.
Athletes take the ImPACT test before the season begins to get a baseline score
on their brainâ€™s function. Then once the athlete sustains a concussion,
he or she takes the ImPACT test again and the pre and post-injury brain functioning
are compared. Collins says, “That really helps in many, many ways, to
objectify the injury, to put numbers to the injury, to know how severe the
ImPACT can be purchased by high schools at a one-time cost of $995, which includes
software support. Since the software can be put on the network, it can run
simultaneously on many computers and several athletes can be tested at the
same time. Collins says itâ€™s affordable for schools to implement and
in the long run can be extremely cost-effective because at present thereâ€™s
no effective treatment for concussions, from a medication standpoint. Additionally,
the only way to prevent further injury is by better managing the injury in
the first place and to make sure the athlete gets adequate rest before returning