New tool for treating concussions
September 27, 2016
This year, local high school athletes will begin taking baseline tests that will help doctors and coaches know when it's safe to allow the students to resume playing following a concussion.
Nevada Union High School nurse Karen Harris estimated that the testing could involve up to 800 student athletes at that campus, and cover every sport.
Testing will also be done at Bear River High School, according to Dr. Michael Jensen, D.O., of Mountain View Rehabilitation in Grass Valley, which is providing the testing technology.
Dr. Jensen said the computer-based ImPACT concussion testing program would provide a baseline measurement of cognitive skills and reaction times that will help determine how well an injured student has healed. The idea, he said, is to prevent further injury that could occur if a young athlete returns to the playing field too soon.
He said the baseline data would be an important tool for local doctors treating student athletes for concussion.
"This will allow us to retest an injured student and compare his post-injury cognitive skills and reactions to his baseline study to see how far he might be from that baseline," he explained. "That will help us decide whether he can resume normal classroom and athletic activities, or whether further rehabilitation is needed."
Cindy Shaw, a speech pathologist with Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH), is one of the health professionals who works with brain-injured patients.
"You can call it cognitive therapy," she said. "Basically, we are retraining the brain to improve functions like attention and memory."
This can take anywhere from several months for a youth to a year for older adults, she said.
Shaw has been working with Dr. Jensen, Harris, and others concerned with concussions in high school athletes. In addition to neuro rehabilitation, Shaw also guides a brain injury support group that meets monthly.
Jensen noted that about 85 percent of concussions heal themselves with time and proper rest. The remainder might require specialized care, including rehab.
Effective healing is vital because concussions that don't heal can manifest later in life, sometimes decades after the event.
Shaw noted that she has recently seen several patients for whom early, untreated concussions resulted in psychological and emotional issues that emerged much later in life, showing symptoms like speech or memory problems, or hyper-sensitivity to noise or light.
Local high schools and members of the medical community have been working for several years to educate coaches, teachers, parents, and the community about concussive injuries, Jensen noted. He credits Harris for "spearheading" the effort. The school nurse has developed protocols, trained coaches and teachers, and reached out to parents and students to make them aware of concussive injuries and how to spot them, he said.
Jensen also praised the work of athletic directors Jeff Dellis, at Nevada Union, and Duwaine Ganskie, at Bear River, in their ongoing support of the need for awareness and proper care of students with concussions.
A team of coaches and volunteer parents has been trained to administer the ImPACT test in the school computer labs, Jensen said. About 15 students will be tested at a time. He said the plan is for all athletes to be tested twice while in high school.
In the event of an injury, post testing of the students will be done by nurses or other medical staff, the doctor noted.
It's important for teachers and parents to watch for symptoms of concussion, which may be subtle, Jensen said. These can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, vision problems, fatigue, and sensitivity to noise and light. In the classroom they might manifest as mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating or remembering, confusion, and slow response.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said nearly 250,000 children and teens with concussion injuries are taken to emergency rooms annually in the U.S., but estimated up to several million may actually sustain such injuries and go unreported.
A physician's referral is needed for Neuro Rehabilitation services. To contact the department of Neuro Rehabilitation at SNMH, call 530-274-6170.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.