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New Concussion Test Uses Radar Imaging

April 27, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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A promising new test for concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries involves imaging—but only of the outside of the body.

Because a concussion makes it difficult to walk and think at the same time, researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in Atlanta developed a test using a simple radar system similar to that used by traffic police to catch speeders. The researchers envision that, eventually, a compact portable system could be deployed on the sideline of a sporting event—or on a battlefield.

For the study, 10 healthy individuals performed the same 30-second walking task under four different conditions:

  • Walking normally
  • Walking while reciting the months of the year in reverse order
  • Walking while wearing goggles that simulate alcohol impairment (because research has shown that concussion impairment and a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent produce similar effects)
  • Walking while wearing the goggles and reciting the months

“By looking for differences in the gait patterns of normal and impaired individuals,” said GTRI research engineer Jennifer Palmer, “we found that healthy individuals could be distinguished from impaired individuals wearing the goggles. Healthy individuals demonstrated a more periodic gait with regular and higher-velocity foot kicks and faster torso and head movement than impaired individuals when completing a cognitive task.”

Palmer was quoted in a GTRI news release.

The differences in gait showed up only when impaired individuals had to perform a cognitive task and walk at the same time. Said research engineer Kristin Bing:

It’s easy for a person to concentrate on one task, but when that person has to multitask, we can begin to discriminate between someone who is impaired and someone who is not.

The researchers analyzed the radar data using information-theoretic techniques, which detected similarities and differences in the data without having to identify and align specific body parts. The subjects did not have to wear special clothing or motion sensors, and the system could detect anomalies in gait without first having to obtain baseline images of a subject’s normal gait.

“We’re using a 10.5-gigahertz continuous-wave radar, which is similar to a police officer’s radar gun that measures the speed of a car,” Bing said. “The data we collect tell us the velocity of everything that’s in the field of view of the radar at that time, including a person’s foot kicks and head and torso movements.”

The researchers presented their results on Tuesday at the SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging


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