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Kid Concussions (video)
November 28, 2002

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Interviewees: Richard Weiland, high school athlete; Micky Collins, University of Pittsburgh Center for Sports Medicine.

Video is 1 min 30 sec long. Please be patient while it loads enough to start playing.

Produced by Sanjanthi Velu

Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage courtesy of ABC News.

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Epidemiology of traumatic brain injury in the United States

News about ImPACT

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center sports concussion researchers study new football helmet at area high schools this fall

When in Doubt, the Athlete Stays Out: Guidelines for High School Team Physician

One in ten high school football players suffers a head injury each year. Athletes don’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 it’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, she’d be sitting in front of a computer that generates shapes and images to objectively test her brain function.

Michael (Micky) Collins, a neuropsychologist and assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Sports Medicine’s Concussion Program,and his colleagues, 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. It’s comprised of a series of questions that measures different aspects of the brain’s function.

Whether it’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 there’s damage that occurs in the brain, and depending on the biomechanics of the blow you’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 as efficiently”.

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 it’s safe for an athlete to return to play. That’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. “It’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 brain’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 injury is”.

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 it’s affordable for schools to implement and in the long run can be extremely cost-effective because at present there’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 to play.

by Sanjanthi Velu

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