BACKGROUND: Biomedical engineers have built a portable device to quickly detect mild traumatic brain injury (concussion) in the heat of sports competition, on the battlefield, in the emergency room, or any other situation where time is critical. DETECT can zero in on problems associated with concussions in about 7 minutes, in almost any setting.
THE PROBLEM: More than 750,000 mild traumatic brain injuries occur each year in the U.S., many during a game. If the injury is misdiagnosed, and the player goes back on the field, a second impact injury shortly after the first can lead to permanent brain damage or possibly death. But in the heat of a sports competition, such injuries can be missed.
HOW IT WORKS: The device to quickly detect mild brain injuries includes software, a portable computer, a controller like that used in video games, earphones and headgear with a video display. People with mild brain injury will struggle with certain mental tasks that draw on different areas of the brain, such as working memory and complex reactions. DETECT picks up on these difficulties and alerts the tester that a concussion has occurred. The system is able to block out unwanted light and sound that could interfere with the test.
WHAT CAUSES BRAIN INJURY: Any kind of blow to the head can cause trauma and concussion. A blood vessel could tear under the skull, causing blood to accumulate in that area that will gradually displace the brain -- a life-threatening situation if not treated promptly. Other trauma can result from a car accident, or when a person is violently shaken, such as while riding a roller coaster. As the head whips sharply back and forth, the brain can pull away from one side of the skull and smash into the other side with sufficient force to rupture tiny blood vessels. The trickling blood accumulates in the small space between the brain and the skull, and the resulting pressure can lead to permanent brain damage or death if left untreated.
SYMPTOMS OF CONCUSSION: Temporary unconsciousness, headache and sometimes a loss of memory surrounding the time of the injury. Vomiting and nausea are also common reactions.