What is the goal of your research?
To help develop best practices for managing concussions in athletes of all ages. To do this, we’re investigating the reliability and validity of tools currently used to assess the injury, as well as exploring new tools.
Why are you studying teenaged and college-aged athletes? Isn’t this more relevant for professional players?
Not at all. In fact, children and teenagers are just as, if not more, susceptible to concussions and take longer to recover than adults. Every year emergency departments in the United States treat an estimated 144,000 sports- and recreation-related concussions in kids ages 5 to 18. And that doesn’t include the approximately 56 percent that go unreported.
What type of tests are you conducting?
We’ve done baseline testing on about 400 athletes, including neuropsychological testing, symptom assessment, and balance testing. If any of these students suffers a concussion over the next year, he or she will be asked to return and take the tests again. The information we gather will help the athlete’s certified athletic trainer, physician, and family assess when it’s safe to play again.
How do the teams and schools currently determine that?
Recently, the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for Texas public school sports, tightened its concussion guidelines. Now an athlete with a concussion must sit out at least 24 hours and must have a medical professional’s clearance. But there is no stand-alone test to evaluate a concussion since it’s such an individualized injury. For example, an athlete who reports being symptom free and passes one test may still be experiencing cognitive deficits. That’s why it’s important to utilize multiple tests, as we are doing.