Why kids, athletes should get a baseline concussion test

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by Jay Crandall

azfamily.com

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 8:10 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 29 at 8:14 PM

PHOENIX -- Watching for, treating and preventing concussions -- it's a hot topic from the football field to the playground.

And it turns out one of the best ways doctors can diagnose concussions is through a tool that lets them take a snapshot of your brain.

But if you are picturing something like an X-ray or MRI, Dr. Steven Erickson says those don't provide a clear picture.

“Imaging for concussion or mild traumatic brain injury, even a high-resolution MRI is typically negative. You can't see the diagnosis," he said.

Erikcson, who is medical director of Banner Concussion Center, says for a clear picture of a concussion, you don't look at the brain; you look at what the brain does.

“It is a functional diagnosis, so we test cognitive function, we test visual function, and we test vestibular or balance function," he explained.

Those were all things being measured on 10-year-old Jake Brugman on the day 3TV visited.

“You are going to have your thumbs out in front of you and watch them the entire time,” athletic trainer Katie Finnie instructed Jake. "And to this slower beat, you are going to swing from side to side.“

Jake takes the whole test in stride.

”Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's like, OK, this is kind of fun,” he said.

Erickson says while some of the tests look like fun and games, each one is designed to measure different brain functions: your vision, balance and cognitive function such as long- and short-term memory.

"All of these systems can be affected by concussion and therefore all of these systems should be tested independently," he said.

But there is one more piece of this puzzle. To diagnose concussion, you need to know what the brain looked like before injury. This is done with a so-called baseline test, which is what Jake was getting.

"So baseline testing is any neurologic test that can objectively meaure what their brain activity is like before they do it," Erickson explained. "Then you repeat after an injury so you can compare their neurologic function to their previous neurologic function."

There is no pass or fail on these tests, but you can come out a winner if you have it before getting a concussion.

"It truly improves the quality of care delivered following an injury because you really know what you are aiming for to get them back to," Erickson said.

The baseline concussion test is $50 at Banner Concussion Center. For more information, call 602-839-7285.

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