It’s not uncommon to hear about professional football players who struggle later in life as a result of untreated concussions and one local high school is hoping to prevent this type of thing for more than just football players.
In late January, Woodside High School began a pilot program with about 20 of the 35 boys’ lacrosse players to use a new computer-based test called Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, or ImPACT to test for concussions. It was developed by clinical experts and is the most-widely used and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system. Although the test measures baseline symptoms of concussions, ultimately the physician makes the decision if the athlete can go back out and play.
“A misconception everyone, not just students, have is that to have a concussion you have to be completely knocked out,” said Steven Harman, head coach of the boys’ lacrosse team. “The causes of concussions — a lot of people think it has to be an explosive big hit — but a lot of the time it’s just twisting.”
Head injuries are on the rise for athletes at all levels of play. An estimated 4 million to 5 million concussions occur annually, with an increase emerging among middle school athletes, according to data on the ImPACT website. Concussions take time to heal and if athletes return to play too soon — while the brain is still healing — there is a greater chance of having a repeat concussion. Repeat or later concussions can be very serious. They can cause permanent brain damage, affecting a person for a lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The testing encourages education about a very important topic, said Karen Li, wellness coordinator for the Sequoia Union High School District. Li worked with Sequoia Hospital Community Grant Representative Marie Violet to establish a partnership between the hospital and the district for the pilot. The hospital ultimately paid for the pilot, including providing personnel to administer the tests and the software itself. Pediatricians Eileen Chan and Niki Saxena had come to the hospital saying they were seeing more and more kids with concussions.
“Parents were joking: can’t we just pretend everyone has to do it?” Harman said. “Because they care about their kids.”
Meanwhile, Woodside’s athletic director Wendy Porter said apart from the obvious benefits of the testing, students get a measure of control over their own health with the testing.
There have been other efforts to make sure students are staying safe. For example, in January 2013, the state mandated concussion training for all high school coaches, paid or unpaid, every two years that reviews recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussions. Some of the signs include appearing dazed or stunned; confusion about assignment or position; forgetting an instruction; being unsure about the game, score or opponent; moving clumsily; answering questions slowly; losing consciousness (even briefly); inability to recall events prior to the hit or fall; showing mood, behavior or personality changes; and other symptoms.
Ninth-grade lacrosse player Deven Hills took the test and said he found it to be challenging, but interestingly formatted.
“I had never thought of doing one (a test) before,” he said. “I would do it again. …It raised my awareness for the potential for [a concussion].”
Li hopes to bring the testing to other schools — and sports such as cheerleading, soccer, football and others — and said it would be ideal to do testing once a year. She also wants to encourage athletes to get tested if they think they may have a concussion.
The school’s principal Diane Burbank spoke to Li about bringing testing to Woodside and was glad to end up piloting the program.
“In the athletics world, the topic of concussions is very prevalent,” Burbank said. “It’s happening at all levels — in Pee Wee, Little League, high school and professional levels. We’ve done a lot of work with prevention and so the next thing to do was look at new technology.”
Based on the results of the pilot, Burbank said the school will look at if the testing is usable and if there’s value to the amount of time and cost of the testing. Violet noted the pilot will help develop protocol and procedures for using the test. Hopefully the pilot will be expanded, she said.
For more information on the ImPACT test, visit impacttest.com.
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