The importance of brain health, especially in the context of concussion evaluation, is something everyone inside and outside the sports world should expect to change. Concussions are becoming manageable through advances in evaluation and treatment, which couldn't have come soon enough. The increasing evidence linking concussive impact exposure to a higher risk for devastating neurological outcomes for professional athletes, amateur athletes, coaches and weekend warriors is top of mind.
Concussions are a significant health concern in sports, particularly among high school and college-aged athletes. The current state of concussion evaluation relies heavily on subjective and error-prone measures such as self-reported symptoms, leading to misdiagnosis and inadequate care. Standardized protocols for evaluating concussions are an important start, but without objective evaluations within those protocols, these, too, remain challenged by fundamental limitations related to evaluation. As the saying goes in medicine: You can’t treat what you can’t measure. In concussion evaluation and treatment, healthcare specialists critically need objective, sensitive and accessible measurement tools to provide consistent and effective care across different settings.
To this end, scientific studies are increasingly looking to brain imaging technologies that evaluate functional impairments following concussion. Evaluating changes in cognitive function represent a major focus using objective methods such as EEGs (electroencephalography) or fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). However, laboratory-based fMRI and EEG aren't usually rapid, portable or readily available at the point of care. Advanced brain imaging technologies must first move beyond hospital laboratories to the front lines where healthcare professionals need them the most to objectively and sensitively measure our most prized cognitive functions in a standardized way.
Recent breakthroughs have begun to directly address this need by utilizing the ubiquitous vital sign framework in medicine for cognitive brain function. Emerging technologies such as portable EEG technology that can be used early in concussion evaluation give way to boundless opportunities for healthcare innovations in diagnosing and treating concussions.
Importantly, these sorts of breakthroughs in brain imaging are accelerating research and development into more powerful brain health assessments for future predictive markers that can enable the prevention of tragic outcomes like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). For instance, these cognitive EEG-vital sign markers are being linked to blood biomarkers to better characterize the effects of sustained exposure to concussive impacts.
Continuing research efforts will be crucial for applications in sports medicine, military medicine and general healthcare, all of which have been held up in progress, awaiting the emergence of objective measures. A greater level of understanding about how best to assess and treat illnesses like concussions can have significant implications for individuals of all ages, leading to healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Not long ago, and still currently for many, the concept of concussion in the headlines evokes thoughts of concern, worry and fear of the unknown potential for tragic consequences. Technology advances are quickly transforming this into thoughts of optimism, actionable prevention and treatment and emerging glimmers of hope that concussion will soon evolve into a manageable health risk. Beyond the headlines, the future may look much brighter than we think.