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Scientists make breakthrough in concussion research

Last Updated Jan 16, 2019 at 2:01 pm PST

SFU Ph.D student and brain researcher Shaun Fickling uses “brain vital signs” to monitor brain function. He is the lead author in a hockey concussion study that captured undetected physiological impairments in young ice hockey players diagnosed with concussions. (Courtesy: Health and Technology District’s BrainNET)
Summary

Scientists can now measure whether concussion treatments are effective, and whether it's safe to return to play

Researchers have made a breakthrough studying the effects of concussions

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Researchers have made a breakthrough studying the effects of concussions. Canadian and American researchers, including experts at Simon Fraser University, are learning more about if treatment is effective and whether it’s safe to return to the playing field.

The team looked at the brain function of Junior A hockey players over multiple years, using a new brainwave monitoring method. That method translates complex brain wave readings into fast results, which they say is crucial to making concussion assessments more accessible.

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy is a neuroscientist with SFU and a hockey dad himself. He worked on the study and says the impact is huge. “We can now measure whether treatments are effective, and whether it’s safe to return to play,” he said.

D’Arcy adds the current testing for concussions isn’t good enough and this research can potentially help shed light on harder to detect symptoms, especially for young athletes. Existing tests may not be detecting concussion symptoms in young hockey players.

“The current tests are really subjective and error-prone,” he told NEWS 1130. “It’s not practical to access objective multi-million dollar MRI instruments. So what this does is it fills the gap and it provides an objective physiological measure at ringside or at field-side and it allows us, just like you can measure your blood pressure and monitor your risk factors for cardiac, it allows us to actually monitor your risk factors for concussion using that measure.”

As a hockey dad, D’Arcy says parents should still always be looking out for symptoms. “If a concussion should happen, always err on the side of caution,” he said. And he says for kids, the league they’re playing in has a big role.

“It’s always important to advocate that the policies for any sport league take this more seriously. Prevention ultimately is the best answer.”