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Concussion Testing Moves Away From Imaging

March 27, 2013
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Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed a tablet computer–based concussion testing system that, they say, can detect signs of brain injury in a person’s speech.

A Notre Dame news release says the system obviates the need for imaging:

Although baseline tests of athletes prior to an injury are trending up, these tests must still be compared to examinations after an injury has occurred. They require heavy medical equipment, such as a CT scanner, MRI equipment or X-ray machine, and are not always conclusive.

“Heavy” medical equipment? Come on; comments about weight are just mean.

Anyway, the Notre Dame system substitutes a tablet computer loaded with special software. A individual speaks into the computer both before and after an event that might cause a concussion, such as an athletic competition. The software looks for indicators of traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as distorted vowels, hyper-nasality, and imprecise consonants.

“This project is a great example of how mobile computing and sensing technologies can transform health care,” said Christian Poellabauer, PhD, associate professor of computer science and engineering and one of the system’s developers. “More important, because almost 90 percent of concussions go unrecognized, this technology offers tremendous potential to reduce the impact of concussive and subconcussive hits to the head.”

The researchers tested the system during annual student boxing tournaments at Notre Dame. During the 2012 Bengal Bouts, the tablet computer detected nine concussions among 125 participants that, according to the news release, university medical personnel confirmed.

The researchers claim several advantages over imaging or observational tests for concussion: portability, high accuracy, low cost, and low probability of deception (because it’s difficult for those suffering from TBI to fake “normal” speech patterns).

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