From the school that brought you Rudy comes another great in contact sports: a diagnostic app that could give medics a better understanding of the effects of concussions in sports.
Researchers at Notre Dame are developing an app for tablet computers that will hopefully allow them to diagnose concussions quickly and easily, without the use of large equipment.
They say the new app offers numerous advantages over other testing measures, such as CT or MRI scans, including providing highly accurate results at a low cost on a highly-portable machine.
“This project is a great example of how mobile computing and sensing technologies can transform healthcare,” Christian Poellabauer, associate professor of computer science and engineering, tells Healthline. “More important, because almost 90 percent of concussions go unrecognized, this technology offers tremendous potential to reduce the impact of concussive and sub-concussive hits to the head.”
How the App Works
Before and after a sporting event, a competitor speaks into the tablet's microphone. The app then takes the two voice samples and compares them, searching for signs of traumatic brain injury, including changes in pitch, distorted vowels, hyper-nasality, and poorly pronounced consonants.
Researchers tested the app during the school’s Bengal Bouts boxing tournament. During last year’s fights, the tool successfully confirmed nine concussions in about 125 contestants. Data from the Baraka Bouts—the female boxing tournament—as well as this year’s bouts are being compared to the findings by the school’s medical team.
Since the app is still in development, it’s unknown when it will be available to the public.
Because 90 percent of concussions in sports and the military go undetected, Poelleabaer said their new technology could be used ringside to immediately address serious head injuries before an athlete or soldier re-takes the field.
The Need for Better Diagnoses
Concussions in sports have been getting lots of attention lately because science is catching onto the effects of having your head regularly bashed.
A condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been appearing in many retired NFL players. The condition has been linked to memory loss, depression, personality changes, dementia, and other serious disorders.
Researchers at ULCA are studying the brains of five retired NFL players to understand how the disease affects older adults and how it could contribute to higher rates of Alzheimer’s.
The challenge is to determine how concussions affect the brain both immediately after an injury and years later. Current research suggests that the effects of childhood concussions could last for decades.
A major concern is that athletes not be put back into play after suffering a head injury. Luckily, most professional sports teams now require that a team doctor or trainer clear a player after a serious injury.
Innovative technologies like the Notre Dame app could help make that process quicker, more reliable, and easily accessible to reduce the effects of chronic head injuries on future generations.