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Researchers develop new test for diagnosing concussions on the sidelines

Previous research shows that concussions among young athletes, particularly those playing football and hockey, have significantly increased in the past decade. Unfortunately, many of these players' head injuries are often undiagnosed because they don't receive proper evaluation. Athletes who sustain repeated concussions are at a greater risk of suffering long-lasting, or sometimes permanent, cognitive problems and being benched for good.

But a new test developed by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania​ could help coaches quickly assess if a player has a concussion and needs to be seen by a doctor. Scientific American reports:

The test was originally designed to evaluate reading skills in children, but it also catches problems with vision and eye movements, which makes it useful for studying concussions. The test consists of a series of numbers arranged in zig­zagging patterns on cards, which subjects read from left to right as quickly as possible. The Penn­sylvania researchers tried out the test on boxers and mixed martial arts fighters in a study published in Neurology earlier this year and found it worked well as a predictor of head injury.

The researchers gave the fighters the test before and after a match. Typically people can complete the test faster the more times they take it, says Laura Balcer, a neurologist and a lead author of the study. But the athletes who had experienced head trauma during their fights read the cards more than 11 seconds slower when they took the test a second time. Fighters who had lost consciousness fared especially poorly, worsening by 18 seconds on average.

Researchers are now studying the test’s accuracy to predict concussions in football players and athletes competing in other contact sports.

Previously: Deceased athletes’ brains reveal the effects of head injuries, When can athletes return to play? Stanford researchers provide guidance and New concussion guidelines for NFL players
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