Some big news yesterday from South Florida on the concussion awareness front as it was announced that high school athletes from one Florida County will be required to have a baseline neurocognitive test before competing for their public school beginning later this year. Broward County, one of the hotbeds of high school football in not only the state of Florida but the entire country announced yesterday that that all athletes will need to take these baseline tests before practicing or competing for a Broward school, effective later this year coinciding with the start of spring football. These tests evaluate a healthy athlete’s decision making ability, reaction time, attention and memory and are a very valuable tool to help doctors and physicians decide when an athlete is fit to play again after a head injury.
According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital (http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/) each year more than 300,000 sports related traumatic brain injuries, better known as concussions, occur in the United States alone. Many of these injuries go untreated or unreported, whether through misdiagnoses, negligence, or just the mentality that exists in competitive culture to “shake it off” and get ready for the next play. The Florida legislature and sport governing bodies across the global sports scene are trying to change that and make sure that the athletes are protected and kept as safe as possible while competing. Increasing the awareness of what concussions are, how they are preventable, and how they are treated once they do inevitably occur is a great first step in solving this sports epidemic. Broward County, Florida looking out for these athletes and requiring this step shows resolve and action, and they should be commended for their effort.
What is this baseline neurocognitive test and why is it important? This test is a computerized test that evaluates specific thought processes and behaviors, and while being a relatively new test it is currently being used by college and professional sport leagues including the NCAA, NFL, NHL, NBA, and the various US Olympic teams since being designed just over five years ago. This is a non-invasive test that includes demographic information and a health history form, statements of current symptoms and conditions, and then the neuropsychological tests that test memory and matching skills. Due to upgrades in technology over the past few years this baseline testing can be completed using a computerized deck of cards and the athlete’s responses to rather simple questions. This baseline testing is neither time consuming or cost prohibitive as it only takes about 15 minutes to complete and costs less than $20. This testing can, and probably will, begin to be included in the yearly physical that many schools require of athlete’s before competing as it currently stands.
Baseline testing is not a new concept in Broward County, as in 2009 a two year pilot of the ImPACT testing program was introduced on a voluntary basis. Through grants from the University of Pittsburgh and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Broward County will be able to continue the concussion testing through the 2013-2014 school year at the very least. This week’s news requiring these tests for all athletes should extend the circle of awareness for concussion and similar brain injuries and their treatment, and hopefully will help young athletes stay healthy and safe while competing for their schools.