Kids, Concussions and the ImPACT Test

If your child has suffered a hit to the head, it's not always easy to know when he or she should return to action. Now there's an online test that can help.

Concussions have been a recent hot topic in professional sports news.

The CDC defines a concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth, according to the CDC.

Not only have brain injuries been popular in national news, I've heard so many stories about local children and adults suffering from the aftermath of a blow to the head. My nephew, an athlete and honors student, has been out of school since last April due to consecutive concussions, the first one occurring in gym class.

A friend’s daughter missed a week of school because of a concussion she experienced while playing indoor soccer. I've heard of many young athletes who had to skip months and even years of playing their favorite sport while also missing valuable time in school due to head injury.

In talking to people my age and even a bit younger, we don’t remember this being such a big issue. My husband had several concussions as a child, went back to school and sports the next day and doesn't remember suffering any consequences.

So, what’s the difference now? Who knows? 

But now, there is a way to get a handle on your child’s cognitive abilities prior to any head injury. So, if they should experience a concussion, doctors will be better equipped to help them heal.

In the early '90s, Dr. Mark Lovell, the founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Concussion Program, and Dr. Joseph Maroon, team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers developed the ImPACT test to assess cognitive and neurological responses in patients 10 years and older who experienced concussion or traumatic brain injury.

They cofounded ImPACT Applications, Inc. along with Dr. Michael (Mickey) Collins, the current Director of the UPMC Sports Concussion Program. This test is now used by professional sports teams, colleges, universities and many high schools and sports clubs around the country to aid the management and treatment of brain injuries.

ImPACT is an acronym for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. The ImPACT website describes the test as “The first, most-widely used, and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.”

The test begins by asking basic demographic information along with questions about symptoms. The patient is then quizzed on verbal and visual memory and recognition, as well as reaction time, speed and impulse control.

It is suggested that young athletes over the age of 11 get a baseline test so if a concussion should occur, doctors will have somewhere to start in helping the patient recover and return to their game and regular activities.

The CDC states:

Children and teens are more likely to get a TBI, including concussion, and take longer to recover than adults. TBI symptoms may appear mild, but the injury can lead to significant lifelong impairment affecting an individual’s memory, behavior, learning, and/or emotions. Appropriate diagnosis, management, and education are critical for helping young athletes with a TBI recover quickly and fully.

The American Journal of Sports Medicine estimates that around 136,000 concussions occur each year in high schools around the country, and concussions seem to be more common than ever before.

As a parent, I think the baseline test makes sense for my children as they continue to play sports, participate in gym class, ride their bicycles, jump, dive, flip and ultimately fall on or get hit in their heads sometimes. If I can do something to prevent any kind of "lifelong impairment", I will do it.

If you are interested in learning more, I've listed some websites with information but also check with your pediatrician for more information. We did and found out that they offer the test in their office.

For more information, visit CDC; ImPACT.    


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