ImPACT designed to measure severity of concussion-related symptoms
Tyler Hernandez is pretty sure he sustained a concussion last summer.
The Central High School football player was riding his bicycle when he suddenly lost control and crashed.
“I was riding my bike with no hands,” he said. “My front tire hit a rock and I smashed my face into the ground. I got up, but I forgot how to walk for a few seconds.”
Hernandez stumbled around before collecting himself and going to a friend’s house nearby. He cleaned up, then rode his bicycle home, thinking he was fine.
A couple of days later, he still had some balance and dizziness problems. Although he never saw a doctor about the injury and was never diagnosed, he believes he had a concussion.
If he shows any signs of a concussion while playing football this season, school officials will be able to give him a test to determine if Hernandez needs further care.
Hernandez is one of an estimated 400 student-athletes in Mesa County School District 51 to take the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (ImPACT) this fall. The test is designed to measure the severity of symptoms in the acute phase of recovery from concussion.
ImPACT grades a person’s memorization skills, matching shapes, mental speed and reaction time. Each test includes six separate tests on word memory, design memory, memory and speed, symbol search, color word match, letter memory and ability to count backward quickly.
Football, soccer, basketball and lacrosse players are required to take the test before they can play. The pre-concussion test gives physicians a baseline to help them further assess a concussion.
“I didn’t find it to be extremely hard, but the lines part was difficult,” Hernandez said. “It’s a good precaution. We might as well do it. It will keep us healthy in the long run.”
If a student-athlete is hit on the head and shows any of the physical signs of a possible concussion, he or she will be required to take the test again. The results will be given to the parents, who must obtain medical clearance before the athlete can return to practice or games.
Any student-athlete who sustains a concussion will sit out a minimum of one week, School District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said. It could be longer, depending on the severity of the concussion.
When the player is cleared by a physician, he or she will have to complete a concussion management protocol before returning to play.
The protocol is called REAP:
Reduce physical demands
Educate the player and parents
Accommodate by lessening the academic demands
Pace the return to play process
“Concussion is a catchword out there right now,” Grand Junction football coach Robbie Owens said. “Everybody is talking about it, from the NFL down to pee-wee football. It’s important our kids understand that.
“All the studies show the younger the kids are, the more long-term damage they can have from multiple concussions. It’s another piece of evidence we can use to determine when a kid can go back out there.”
The ImPACT test wasn’t around for student-athletes when Owens played football.
“I think I probably got one, but you just shook it off,” Owens said. “The term back then was ‘You got your bell rung.’ You went to the side, shook your head, went back in and you didn’t think twice about it. With the advances medically, we understand things better.”
There are different severities of a concussion, which aren’t always obvious.
“You don’t need a loss of consciousness to have a concussion,” said Dr. Michael Reeder, a sports medicine specialist at Rocky Mountain Orthopeadics. “In fact, a majority of people that have a concussion don’t have a loss of consciousness.”
The ImPACT test will help identify concussions, especially for the ones most difficult to diagnose.
“It’s going to be a tool for difficult decision making when retuning to play,” Reeder said.
Cain received a grant through Dick’s Sporting Goods, a major sponsor of the test, to pay for the first year of the program. It has a value of roughly $2,000, Cain said, and the test is valid for two years.
A parent or guardian of a student-athlete not in football, soccer, basketball or lacrosse can request their child take the test by contacting their school’s athletic director.
Dick’s Sporting Goods is donating $1 for every pair of shoes purchased until Sept. 12 to the ImPACT test.
Next year, District 51 plans to test freshmen and new high school students in the district and plans to administer the test to freshmen, juniors and new student-athletes each year.