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UMMC hoping to enlist young athletes for new baseline concussion test

Brain-from-front_webUniversity of Mississippi Medical Center is taking advantage of a new use for an old piece of equipment to spark a campaign for young athletes to participate in a new concussion test.

Using a Computerized Dynamic Posturography device, which resembles an empty refrigerator, doctors can get an idea of an athlete’s normal equilibrium and balance. If and when that athlete suffers a concussion, those readings can be compared with those taken after the injury. Comparing the data sets could give treating doctors a clearer idea of when the athlete has fully recovered from the concussion, said Dr. William Mustain, Ph.D, director of UMMC’s vestibular lab, which houses the posturography (meaning “balance”) device.

The device is normally used to treat people who complain of dizziness or imbalance brought on by illness or disease. The hospital learned of the new use for the device through its manufacturer, Dr. Denise Pouncey, UMMC audiologist, said in a press release.

The NCAA has already approved the device for use in concussion testing.

The lab has added the test to imPACT, its existing concussion testing regimen that measures memory, balance, reaction time, attention span and more.

“We’re focusing on younger athletes, because they’re more susceptible (to concussions) and may recover differently,” Mustain said.

Mustain said his group has met with the Mississippi Brain Injury Association and some doctors that serve as team physicians for high schools. “We’re kind of slowly getting the word out,” Mustain said. “But it probably won’t be until after the holidays when we start to formalize partnerships with a few schools. We are open for business, though.”

The staff in the vestibular lab hopes to enlist parents, coaches, booster clubs and schools to participate in the baseline tests. Mustain points to a couple studies that illustrate the need for it.

One conducted by the University of Arkansas’ medical school, and released in October at a pediatric conference, found that 32 percent of high school football players surveyed the last two years did not report common concussion symptoms, like vomiting and headaches. More than half the athletes surveyed said they kept the symptoms hidden because they wanted to keep playing.

The test costs $120 per patient, and takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Mustain said the hospital is open to offering reduced volume rates for entire sports teams.

Mustain said the main objective behind the project is to get what is called “baseline” readings from an athlete, so if and when that athlete suffers a concussion, the readings from the concussed brain can be compared with the baseline. “It’s so much better when you can make that comparison,” Mustain said.

“And that helps decide when the child is ready to resume whatever sport they were playing,” Mustain continued. “The guidelines for that have evolved. The most critical thing is that the child be removed from play and not be allowed to return until they are completely healed.”

The hope is that the baseline tests become a part of the preseason physical screening most every high school athlete has to undergo before being allowed to compete. That’s critical data, Mustain said, because balance readings for athletes are likely to be higher than non-athletes.

Mustain said that some concussions still are not totally gone even when common symptoms like nausea and headaches disappear. That’s a gap the baseline readings can fill, he said, for what the medical community calls “managing physicians,” or the doctors who are treating a concussed athlete.

Mustain is careful to point out that his lab’s project is not in the business of treating concussions. Rather, it provides data for the doctors who are. Instead of managing physicians comparing their patients’ balance data to general standards, they can compare them with their own.

“And the more data we can give them, the better,” Mustain said.

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About Clay Chandler