New Scanning Techniques Advance Concussion Research

Research conducted by Humboldt State Kinesiology professor Rock Braithwaite has played a significant role in demonstrating the usefulness of computerized neurocognitive testing that could change the way the medical community analyzes and understands the long-term effects of sports-related concussions.

Braithwaite collaborated with former HSU professor Anthony Kontos, a professor for the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, and two other University of Pittsburgh professors, on a study that is considered the largest statistical review of computerized testing to date. The study was published in the March Journal of International Neuropsychological Society.

Braithwaite’s analysis focused on computerized neurocognitive testing, using the four primary systems available. His study evaluated prior research of published computerized concussion testing to date, covering 37 studies and 3,960 participants all within the first week of sustaining a concussion. The study produced two key findings:

– Middle school and younger high-school students displayed more pronounced cognitive effects and greater performance deterioration according to neurocognitive testing after a concussion than their senior high school and college-aged counterparts.

– ImPACT®—a computerized neurocognitive test battery designed to assess mild traumatic brain injury—demonstrated the strongest performance for detecting cognitive impairment because it measured the types of tasks that this meta-analysis identified as most effective at detecting post-concussion issues including: processing speed, verbal memory, visual memory and recall. The success of this technology indicates computerized testing—as conducted with the fNIRS—is the most accurate evaluation method.

“ImPACT found the largest effects for individuals who had been concussed—across all outcomes,” said Braithwaite, who conceived of the idea for this study. “Memory, processing speed, recall. . . . ImPACT was able to better detect changes compared to the other computerized tests.”

“In the past decade and a half, many in the field of concussion science have tried to find an imaging tool that could help us in a clinical setting—and failed to find anything with consistency,” said Michael Collins, director of the fNIRS research. “This preliminary study, although small, showed us where in the brain a patient is affected and to what cognitive extent. It was enough evidence for us to keep pushing further with this potential tool.”