Popular Concussion Test Not Always Reliable: UTA Researchers

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are looking into the reliability of popular concussion tests used by professional teams, colleges and high schools across the country.

"If we're using this test clinically, we want to make sure we fully understand it," said Dr. Jacob Resch, an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at UTA.

Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, known as ImPACT, are used to help determine if an athlete is suffering from a concussion.

"These tests are thought to measure cognitive domain such as memory, reaction time, and processing new information," said Resch who is also a member of the UTA Athletic Training staff.

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He and his team of researchers studied how healthy college students performed on the test, after taking it multiple times on specific, clinically relevant dates. They found that ImPACT misclassified healthy students as impaired up to 46 percent of the time.

British med students Wesley Dean and Jack Boylan are spending time at UTA to learn more about sports medicine. They agreed to take the test for NBC 5. Both are healthy and have suffered no head trauma, and their ImPACT results reflected that.

They say, however, it's easy to see how someone not suffering from a concussion could get tripped up by the test.

"I feel like my brain has been fried now," said Dean. "I think there were a lot of points where you could make a small mistake or a silly mistake and it could affect your score."

"Trying to remember stuff at the start and getting retested on it at the end, it's amazing how much you manage to forget," said Boylan.

Resch says it's not entirely clear why so many students were misclassified, but believes outside factors such as sleep, caffeine intake, and mood can also affect scores.

"We're replicating that in studies that we're currently doing at UT Arlington in order to help figure out what are some different sources of error," said Resch.

Resch says his research is not meant to discourage athletes from using ImPACT and other tests similar to it, but to emphasize the need for multiple kinds of concussion testing -- such as balance and symptom assessments.

"Everyone is different. My concussion will be different from your concussion," said Resch. "So it's a matter of using a battery of tests in order to determine what particular decline we're seeing with an athlete."

A spokesperson for ImPACT tells NBC 5 the company does not comment on research it was not involved in – however, they fully support clinicians using multiple concussion assessments to determine the most effective and efficient way to treat patients.

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