Head Injuries, Concussions and ImPACT

The human brainI’ve had the pleasure of helping those who have suffered from head injuries for almost twenty years now.

But my perspective on these things changed about six weeks ago.  At that time, my son was playing baseball, fell and hit his head, and he sustained a concussion.

Naturally, because of my experience in head injury cases, I panicked and feared the worst.

Once we took him to the hospital and had him undergo a CT scan to rule out a hidden brain bleed, my fears were reduced.  At that time, he had some headaches, a little bit of dizziness when standing up, and a little bit of nausea.  I knew from my experience that, once the brain bleed was ruled out, he’d likely be fine with a little (or a lot) of rest and time as long as he didn’t sustain a second concussion before his brain healed (second-impact syndrome – problems caused when a person has a second concussion before being healed from an initial concussion — can be catastrophic).

But then, we were faced with the harder question, “How do we know when he’s better?  When is it okay to let him start participating in activities again?  He looks fine, he isn’t having symptoms, but how do we know his brain is actually healed?”

Going through his treatment, we learned about ImPACT testing.  ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a widely-used and scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.  This test measures cognitive abilities and  cognitive processing of participants.  When people take the test after a concussion, it can help medical providers make a determination of when the injured brain is healed.

But the key is having a baseline —- knowing what your cognitive abilities and processing are BEFORE you sustain a concussion.  That way, doctors know whether you’re scoring as well as you did before you had the brain injury.

In our case, we didn’t know about the test before my son’s accident, and we didn’t have a baseline.  My son’s medical providers were able to take his test scores and compare them to averages, but they weren’t able to definitively tell us if his brain was able to think and process as well as it did before the concussion.

But that’s a problem.  And it’s why the NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR and many universities and school districts require their athletes to have a baseline ImPACT test and score before the athletes are allowed to participate in those sports.

Having gone through this, I think more parents need to know about it.  If you or your child participate in sports, dance, cheer or other athletic activities, I urge you to have your child take the baseline test sooner rather than later.  The baseline test is relatively inexpensive.  I know that the specialist who treated my son offer the pre-concussion testing for $20.  This testing cane be done online, at home.  This is a small price to pay to help protect your kids.

If you want to learn more or find someone in your area who can administer a baseline test,  visit the ImPACT website at  www.impacttest.com.

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