”We can get an idea of what area of the brain is being involved in the process, whether the speed of processing is at the rate it should be,” Molfese said. ”The different areas of the brain that normally integrate information quickly stop doing that, so that’s another way we should be able to pick up whether there is an injury or not.”
While the test itself is still in the developmental stages, it would represent a major development in on-site concussion diagnosis. Right now, most sideline concussion evaluations involve baseline testing, in which an athlete with a suspected injury is asked several questions to test cognitive ability and the answers are compared to those given under a normal situation. Trainers and medical professionals are then left to guess whether a player is fit to return, leaving the door open to both sending an injured player back on the field when he or she shouldn’t be there.
Questions about this sort of testing still remain beyond whether it will ultimately work. The machines used to conduct the tests will be costly, and the cost could be prohibitive for many NCAA schools or at lower levels of sports, where concussions are frequent and diagnosing and treating them is just as important. If the Nebraska test or one like it ultimately proves effective, will the NCAA, NFL, or other organizations help shoulder the costs for schools and leagues that can’t afford it?
Those questions will be answered when and if the tests are fully developed or when other methods of diagnosis and treatment that are more effective than what we have now emerge. For now, it’s important that leagues like the NFL and NCAA, which don’t have the cleanest records when it comes to concussions, keep funding and supporting research into how to make their games safer. And in the meantime, they need to keep taking steps to improve how concussions are prevented, diagnosed, and treated by taking steps to make on-site medical evaluations independent of coaching staffs and players and by standardizing the procedures teams are required to follow when players take hard hits that may cause brain injuries.