There has been a lot of attention lately on sports-inflicted, specifically football, concussions — and rightfully so. With the new Will Smith movie “Concussion” and news reports about professional football players having lasting brain injuries, it might make parents of future football players nervous about suiting up their kids and sending them out on the field.
Concussions, though, don’t just happen to ball players. In fact the highest rates of traumatic brain injuries are in children ages birth to 4, followed by older adolescence ages 15-19 and then seniors 65 and above, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in 2010.
Most of the time traumatic brain injuries, of which concussions are one kind, don’t even happen on the playing field. For children ages birth to 14, traumatic brain injuries occur 52 percent of the time from a fall, followed by 24.8 percent from being struck by or against something, 15.3 percent unknown or other causes, 6.8 percent from motor vehicle and 2.9 percent assault, according to the CDC study.
So as a parent, you cannot just slap a helmet on your kids when they are on the ball field and think that they will never get a concussion. You cannot protect them from hitting their heads against the kitchen table or a desk, or falling backward and hitting their heads while running outside.
Austin-based Brains Worldwide Inc. and its Brains Worldwide Foundation is trying to put some tools into parents’ hands that will make it easy for them to determine if their child has had a concussion.
“Kids bump their heads all the time,” Wendy Lipton-Dibner, CEO of Brains Worldwide. “How many times in a week do we bump our own heads. … Our big concern is when (concussion) is not diagnosed.”
Brains Worldwide’s Oz Schaeferhas developed a Objective Brain Concussion Assessment and Monitoring System that works on a specially calibrated iPad.
Schaefer’s software has its roots in testing seniors’ equilibrium when he worked in assisted living centers. He’s now translated it into software that will work for kids 8 to 18. He’s also working on something that will work for kids even younger than 8.
When a parent suspects that a kid has had a concussion, they put the iPad in the kid’s hand and run through a series of tests. Kids will think they are playing a video game.The iPad program is looking at eye movement, ability to focus, memory, reaction time and equilibrium. One of the tests includes standing on an equilibrium platform, which is part of the device package.
The tests are designed to be objective, and not something children can fake their way through by guessing well or by knowing what the answer is supposed to be. Kids have a team spirit, Schaefer says. They don’t want to let the team down, or they don’t want to tell Mom or Dad that they were rough housing and hit their head.
“We designed it around the client is going to try to fake it, so how can I catch him cheating?” Schaefer says. “We developed technology that doesn’t allow you to manipulate it.”
After about 10 minutes of playing on the iPad, the test will be done. Parents will get immediate color-coded results that will tell you if your child is in the green: healthy brain function; yellow: caution, retest in 24 hours, blue: alert, see the doctor in the next 48 hours for evaluation; or red: critical — go immediately to the nearest hospital or emergency room.
Once the prescribed treatment (usually rest and avoiding things like computer and handheld devices for a period of time), parents can retest to make sure it’s safe to resume normal activities.
Brains Worldwide tested the iPad device on 2,000 students and veterans and found that 401 had symptoms of a concussion. Of those 142 had been previously cleared by someone in the medical community.
The company is doing a new round of testing, putting 150 specially calibrated iPads with the equilibrium platform into families’ hands. The hope is that this next round of testing will start in March and by June it will be ready for sale to the public for about $300. It’s looking for test families and the signup form is online at thehiddendanger.com.
Eventually, the foundation wants to set up scholarships to help kids who have had concussions not feel pressured to return to play because of the need for a college scholarship.
Concussion warning signs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has this checklist for schools, that also works for parents.
Appears dazed or stunned
Is confused about events
Answers questions slowly
Can’t recall events prior to the hit, bump, or fall
Can’t recall events after the hit, bump, or fall
Loses consciousness (even briefly)
Shows behavior or personality changes
Forgets class schedule or assignments
Headache or “pressure” in head
Nausea or vomiting
Balance problems or dizziness
Fatigue or feeling tired
Blurry or double vision
Sensitivity to light
Sensitivity to noise
Numbness or tingling
Does not “feel right”
Difficulty thinking clearly
Feeling more slowed down
Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy
More emotional than usual