Anne B. Sereno, professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, has recently completed research to develop a simple test of cognition that could help determine potential neurological damage done during sports play. Her ultimate creation was an easily accessible iPad version of a cognitive test that is a currently well-accepted test (the difference being that it is used on full size computers). The neurological test consists of boxes on the screen, in which players are directed to touch the box that lights up or the box directly across from the box that lights up. While seemingly simple, this type of test can quickly determine whether a player in any sport has suffered from a concussion or other damage to cognitive function.
Currently in many schools across the country, student athletes perform this type of cognitive test before a sports season begins. After any type of severe head hit, the students are then retested in order to determine if their cognitive function has changed. But this requires the use of physical computers at schools, often with a great deal of lapsed time between the injury and the test, many times with continued play occurring in the process.
A recently completed study on the new iPad test performed by Sereno and her team included female high school soccer players. She chose this group because female soccer players are ranked second only to football players in the number of reported concussions. The results of the cognitive function iPad test showed that the soccer players who headed the ball throughout their practice showed a lower cognitive function than the control group (non-soccer players). Those who had played the longest over time and practiced more hours per week had poorer results. While this has led to many articles regarding the potential for long-term damage caused by heading soccer balls, Sereno says that no ultimate conclusion can be drawn yet on the subject, given that it was one test, one gender, one age group, and one control group. In the New York Times article, Soreno says of the long-term risks to cognitive function associated with heading soccer balls:
“We didn’t re-test the girls. At this point, we don’t know the risks of cognitive function or even if there are risks.”
Although the findings of the study performed by Sereno and her team at the UT Health Science Center are not complete, one thing is for certain – the iPad cognitive test is sure to prove beneficial as a portable means of detecting trauma to the brain onsite at any type of sporting event. She and her team plan to continue testing on a variety of age groups and sports in the future, with the hopes that this new iPad cognitive function test would allow coaches and medical personnel to quickly determine if a player’s hit to the head has changed their neurological process. Instead of potentially mistakenly continuing to play a student that seems fine after a hit to the head, the new iPad cognitive test would enable coaches to make a better determination of when to sit a player out before they have ever reached the level of concussion.