Is computerized testing for concussions effective?

December 30, 2013


Is computerized testing for concussions effective?

Sports medicine doctors typically use computerized neurocognitive testing for concussions sustained during both amateur and professional sports events, but a new study published in the journal Neuropsychology Review asserts that the widely-used technology may not be an effective diagnostic method. 

After analyzing reports on computerized neurocognitive testing dating back to 2005, the researchers found that there is not enough evidence to support their use in clinical settings. Although there were 29 peer-reviewed studies on the technology since 2005, the researchers believe more peer-reviewed material is needed - especially since there is no sole "brain-test" for diagnosing concussions. Despite the lack of evidence, about 40 percent of athletic trainers stated that they use computerized neurocognitive tests following a sports-related concussion. The tests are also popular in schools, and are often used to determine when an athlete can return to play following a head injury. 

"Given the attention that concussion in sport has gained in recent years, it is surprising there has not been more research into some of the newer computer-based methods used to evaluate post-concussion symptoms," said the study's co-author, C. Munro Cullum. "The diagnosis of concussion remains a challenge in many cases, as it relies upon reported and observed symptoms."

One reason why computerized neurocognitive testing may not accurately diagnose concussions is because the mild head injury can vary from patient to patient, the researchers said. Some athletes may only show subtle symptoms, which could then go unnoticed. As a result, the researchers suggested that athlete trainers, doctors and coaches should take a multi-dimensional approach when testing and responding to head injuries.

Research on sports-related head injuries has grown over the years, due to the rise in concussions among young athletes and increased awareness of the short- and long-term effects of concussions. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine found that 250,000 people younger than age 19 were treated for concussions in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001, The Washington Post reported.

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