NPR : News

Filed Under:

Computerized Tests For Concussions May Be Unreliable

Schools worried about concussions increasingly use computerized tests to tell if a student athlete has a brain injury. But new research says those tests aren't reliable enough to diagnose concussion, or to tell if it's safe to return to play.

The researchers looked at research on one computerized neuropsychologist test, called ImPACT, that is widely used by colleges and high schools. (Here's one NPR story on how high schools use ImPACT to assess concussions.)

It's also used by the National Football League and National Hockey League.

But very few studies have been done on the reliability of these tests in real-world situations.

So Lester Mayers, a sports medicine doctor at Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y., and Tom Redick, an assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University in Columbus, Ind., surveyed the data. They weren't happy with what they found. They say computerized tests aren't reliable enough to serve as the sole measure of brain health.

"I'm not suggesting abandoning the whole practice," Redick told Shots. "But I do think that we want to be sure we're not using something just because it's popular." Their work is published in the current Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.

One issue with the computerized testing is the length of time that passes from when a healthy athlete takes a baseline test, and when they're tested after a suspected concussion.

After a few weeks, the test becomes increasingly unreliable, the review found. That's an issue because the manufacturers recommend testing athletes twice in high school, and once in college. "This increases the likelihood that a true cognitive impairment will be missed," the authors write.

Another issue is how reliable the tests are in determining when it's safe for an athlete to return to play without risking further brain damage. Just three studies looked at that. Those studies were very small, and the results inconsistent, the authors report. They write:

"We therefore question the rationale of using ImPACT for clinical management of sport-related concussion and specifically for determining the time of return to play."

There is no gold standard for figuring out when an athlete is safe to return to play, Redick says, which makes it hard for coaches, parents, and athletes to know what to do. But computerized testing is not the solution to that problem.

The U.S. military has invested millions into computerized testing service members for traumatic brain injury, but that program has been a debacle, according to an investigative report last November by NPR and ProPublica. Researchers say the computerized test used, called ANAM, isn't robust enough to screen for problems that could continue weeks or months after a brain injury.

Last August, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that parents shouldn't let children box, urging parents to recommend sports "that do not encourage intentional head injuries."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Took Unlikely Path To Hollywood Royalty

Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood knows tough times. A single mom at 17 who once worked at a French fry factory to make ends meet is Hollywood royalty today. A favorite of director Tim Burton, Atwood is now costume designer for his adaptation of the darkly comic, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children and the upcoming Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
NPR

Carnegie Deli Says It Is Closing Down Its Landmark NYC Restaurant

As news of the closing rippled far beyond the deli's home turf in Manhattan Friday, hundreds of people responded with sadness and disbelief.
NPR

The VA Will Now Pay For Fertility Treatment For Wounded Vets

Congress has reversed a law passed in 1992 that prohibited the Department of Veterans Affairs from paying for IVF for veterans and their families, after mounting political pressure.
NPR

The United Nations Is Launching A Space Mission

The U.N. is planning to send its first spacecraft into orbit, packed with scientific experiments from countries that can't afford their own space programs.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.