New Advances in Concussion Testing Helps Protect Athletes

by John McKiggan

The hottest topic of conversation among my friends and neighbours the last two weeks has been their kids amateur hockey tryouts. The other day, I was contacted by a parent whose son suffered a serious concussion during a practice session.

Sport-induced concussions are serious business. As Sidney Crosby can testify, they can have long lasting effects, particularly if they are not diagnoses promptly and the athlete is returned to the game. As I have posted previously, there are a number of different mechanisms for diagnosing concussions: Brain Injury Claims: New Guidelines to Diagnose Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

An article posted by my colleagues at Slater Vecchio discusses a new baseline test for athletes before the season begins.

The test, named ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) can be administered in 20-minutes by an athletic trainer, school nurse, athletic director, team coach, team doctor, or anyone trained to administer baseline testing.

The idea is that an assessment and record of the ‘normal’ cognitive functions of each player will assist in more effective diagnoses if a player is injured. The test measures a number of aspects of cognitive functioning, including: attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, non-verbal problem solving and reaction times.

According to the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia approximately 700 Nova Scotians are diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries each year. One has to wonder if the use of a more accurate baseline could help with these diagnoses?

Issues with ImPACT?

The ImPACT website describes their test as “the first, most-widely used, and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.”

First of all I want to say I support any iniative that makes it easier to diagnose brain injuries.

The concern I have is that computerization necessarily involves certain costs that other tests may avoid. The ImPACT software alone costs anywhere between $350-750 per year for a sports team/educational institution.

Another Solution?

Last year I wrote about a low-tech low-cost test for diagnosing concussions in less than a minute. The King-Devick test, as it is called, uses simple cue cards and is easy to administer on the sidelines or on the bench.

Science Daily reported:

“The one-minute test involves the athlete reading single digit numbers displayed on index-sized cards. Any increase (worsening) in the time needed to complete the test suggests a concussion has occurred, particularly if the delay is greater than five seconds compared to the individual’s baseline test time.”

The obvious benefits to this test are the speed with which it can be done coupled with the low cost. The article admits that more extensive testing can be done to better capture post-concussion syndrome. However, the King-Devick test could certainly be useful for near-instantaneous decision-making during a game.


The ImPACT product looks like another excellent tool devoted to concussion and brain injury diagnoses. While the costs associated with the software and the additional technology required may be prohibitive for amateur teams or schools, there are real benefits to having an accurate baseline measurement in determining whether or not a concussion has occurred. The effects of post-concussion and second-impact syndrome are very serious and every measure needs to be taken to protect athletes.

If you would like more information on this or have something to say about it please leave a comment below.

Further Reading:

Is Football Becoming Too Violent? Do Ratings Trump safety?

NFL Brain Injury Lawsuit Raises Public Awareness of Dangers of Concussion

Nova Scotia Brain Injury Claims: Signs of Minor Traumatic Brain Injury

Hockey Nova Scotia Recommends New Concussion Policy to Prevent Brain Injury

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