Study: Vision effective way to test for concussion on sidelines

When the vision test was combined with tests for balance and cognition, concussion was shown to be correctly predicted 100 percent of the time.
By Stephen Feller  |  Sept. 10, 2015 at 5:49 PM
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NEW YORK, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A set of vision, balance and cognition tests administered on the sidelines can accurately predict whether an athlete has sustained a concussion, according to a large review of studies.

The study, conducted by researchers at New York University, was released as the National Football League opens its season, just a week after reports surfaced claiming the league pressured the makers of the upcoming Will Smith movie "Concussion" to change parts of the story. The film is focused on Dr. Bennet Omalu, who studied neuro-degenerative disease in former football players that are thought to be caused by repeated trauma to the head.

"This tool as part of a simple battery of tests assessing cognition and balance can raise a flag for those athletes that require follow-up with a medical professional," said Dr. Steven Galetta, a professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Galetta, in a press release. "In the heat of a game, there is a lot of chaos and confusion on sidelines, so anything that helps eliminate guesswork is needed."

Researchers reviewed 15 studies that involved 1,419 athletes, 112 of whom had sustained a concussion during gameplay or practice. The study included professional hockey players, as well as youth, collegiate and amateur athletes in football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, boxing, basketball and rugby.

Each of the studies included a baseline, preseason measurement on the King-Devick test, a vision test that involves rapidly identifying numbers on cards. Players who'd sustained a concussion were 4.8 seconds slower than their baseline test, correctly predicting 96 of the 112 concussions, or 86 percent. Overall, if an athlete had a slower test time than their baseline, they were 5 times more likely to have a concussion.

When combined with tests for balance and cognition, researchers found that a worsening score on any of the three tests correctly indicated a concussion 100 percent of the time.

"There is no diagnostic substitute for a medical professional when it comes to evaluating an athlete for concussion, but physicians are not always on the sidelines during practice or a game when an injury might occur," said Dr. Laura Balcer, a professor of neurology, population health, and ophthalmology at NYU Langone. "Our study shows that an easy to administer vision test is a simple, effective tool that empowers parents, coaches, trainers -- and even physicians -- on the sidelines to have a protocol for deciding if an athlete should be removed from play."

The study is published in the journal Concussion.

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