PCMH Offers Added Peace Of Mind For Parents
April M. Fronick ~ Editor
More than a bump on the head, concussions are serious business and now two local schools have enlisted the help of Pike County Memorial Hospital (PCMH) to help attend to student athletes.
This year PCMH began using the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) system for the Louisiana and Clopton school districts. Brett Dockery, certified athletic trainer for PCMH, is on the sidelines of most games and is now armed with another tool to keep athletes better protected. She noted Clopton and Louisiana are two of only a handful of districts in the state that utilize ImPACT testing.
“We decided to offer this service because it’s absolutely top-of-the-line when it comes to concussion management and treatment,” Dockery stated.
She added that she used the software at Truman State, where she is a 2008 graduate. The ImPACT system is used by virtually every college for their athletes. PCMH decided to offer the program to area schools; Louisiana and Clopton accepted.
The concussion assessment and cognitive testing software can help guide athletes, parents, coaches and doctors through the concussion recovery process. It gives peace of mind to everyone involved.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell with kids. They’re such competitors they’ll sometimes just grab a drink of water and shake it off because they want back on the field,” Coach Adam Falloon pointed out. “I think it’s great…for football especially. And the hospital really went out on a limb for us and our kids.”
While it’s important to note the ImPACT testing won’t prevent a head injury, but it does take much of the guesswork out of deciding when it’s safe for an athlete to return to sports.
“It’s another tool for us to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our kids,” Falloon continued.
HOW IT WORKS
The initial ImPACT test, which is administered to athletes at the beginning of a season, takes about 20 minutes to complete. It takes a baseline of the athlete’s cognitive functions. The test is then taken by an athlete within 48 hours of the injury and then periodically through the recovery process until the athlete can match their baseline score. This type of concussion assessment can help to objectively evaluate the concussed athlete’s post-injury condition and track recovery for safe return to play, thus preventing the cumulative effects of concussion.
ImPACT is the most widely used computer-based testing program in the world and is implemented effectively across high school, collegiate, and professional levels of sport participation.
The test measures multiple aspects of cognitive functioning in athletes, including: attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, non-verbal problem solving and reaction time within 1/100th of a second. Following injury the test measures player symptoms, measures verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time, measures reaction time, assists clinicians and athletic trainers in making difficult return-to-play decisions, produces comprehensive report of test results, and automatically stores data from repeat testing. Results can be e-mailed or faxed for fast consultation by a neuropsychologist.
“Concussions are oftentimes what we refer to as a ‘silent injury.’ Often you don’t see any signs or symptoms that would indicate a concussion. However, by utilizing ImPACT, we pick up on the symptoms the athletes experience but don’t report. Often these are the more serious symptoms that, if ignored, result in more serious health problems down the road,” Dockery explained. “It ensures the athletes are ready to return at the appropriate time. Athletes’ safety is at the forefront in my eyes at all times and ImPACT helps me to know when I can safely return an athlete to a sporting activity.”
She added that for healthcare professionals, the information gathered by ImPACT is priceless.
“This is one of the only ways we have to functionally measure concussion symptoms and you cannot put a value on that,” Dockery said. “Concussions are still somewhat of a mystery, especially when looking at long-term effects and ImPACT helps health care workers to put the puzzle pieces together so that the symptoms make sense when comparing them to brain function.”
The test is relatively simple to administer, too. The athletes sit at a computer and take the test. Results are interpreted by specially-trained doctors.
“When their post-concussion results are in line with their baseline results, we know that the athlete has recovered from his/her concussion and may safely return to activity with little fear of more serious complications,” Dockery said.
DANGERS OF CONCUSSION
In the worst cases, concussion can result in death or second-impact syndrome in which the brain swells dangerously after a minor blow.
“The condition may develop in people who receive a second blow days or weeks after an initial concussion, before its symptoms have gone away,” Dockery explained.
Except in boxing, all cases have occurred in athletes under age 20 as the student is still maturing.
“Post-concussion syndrome is another factor we must consider when treating these athletes. Concussions are brain injuries. The brain heals slowly and often it can take weeks, even months, for the symptoms to completely subside. ImPACT helps us to know when the brain function has returned to a ‘normal’ level or a level of prior function.”
Long-term effects of concussion can include psychiatric disorders and loss of long-term memory. Three or more concussions are also associated with a fivefold greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier and a threefold greater chance of developing memory deficits. Chronic encephalopathy is an example of the cumulative damage that can occur as the result of multiple concussions or less severe blows to the head. The condition is called dementia pugilistic a, or “punch drunk” syndrome, commonly associated with boxers, can result in cognitive and physical deficits such as Parkinsonism, speech and memory problems, slower mental processing, tremor and inappropriate behavior.
Currently all football and basketball players at Clopton and Louisiana high schools are utilizing the ImPACT testing system.
“Parents love it because it takes all of the guess work out of deciding when the athlete is safe to return to play. If the athlete doesn’t test within their baseline, then it’s not safe for them to return to play. It’s that simple,” Dockery remarked. “Athletes know they ‘just don’t feel right.’ ImPACT allows us to be able to explain to them why they don’t feel right. We can show them what areas of their brain have been affected and help them to understand why they are experiencing certain symptoms based on the location of their injury and why it isn’t always safe for them to return to play even though they may think they are symptom-free.”
See how the ImPACT test has benefitted one local athlete and his family in a related story on page 15.