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Area High Schools And Colleges Will Use “ImPACT” Concussion Evaluation System For The First Time This Football Season

PITTSBURGH, August 23, 2001 — During the upcoming football season, more than 20 high school and seven college football teams in the region will be using a new method of evaluating sports concussions with “ ImPACT” (Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing).

Developed by Mark Lovell, Ph.D., ImPACT is the first computerized evaluation system used that may help determine a concussion’s severity as well as if and when it is safe for the athlete to return to contact sports. Although several area high schools and colleges began using ImPACT during the last school year for winter contact sports, many of the football teams will be using ImPACT for the first time this season.

With ImPACT, team athletic trainers and physicians collect and store pre-season baseline data on the athletes’ neurocognitive functional state by having them take a 20-minute computerized test that measures brain processing, speed, memory and visual motor skills. Then, if an athlete experiences a concussion during the season, he or she is re-tested and the post-concussion data are compared to the baseline data. This information helps athletic trainers and physicians determine the player’s post-concussion neurocognitive status and when it is safe for the player to return to active sports.

“Studies show that approximately 10 percent of athletes in contact sports, such as high school football, experience concussions each season,” according to Mark Lovell, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, director of UPMC Center for Sports Medicine’s Concussion Program. “We think there are many more that go undiagnosed and unreported because symptoms are not always definite and it is difficult to concretely assess the effects of a concussion.”

A concussion occurs when an athlete’s brain is violently rocked back and forth inside of the skull due to a blow to the head or neck. A concussion can disturb brain activity and symptoms may include disorientation, confusion, dizziness, amnesia, uncoordinated hand-eye movements and sometimes unconsciousness.

“Most athletes who experience an initial concussion can recover completely as long as they are not returned to contact sports too soon. The effects of repeated concussions are cumulative. Therefore, allowing enough healing and recovery time is crucial in preventing any further damage,” said Dr. Lovell. “Following a concussion, there is a period of change in brain function that may last anywhere form 24 hours to 10 days. During this time, the brain is vulnerable to more severe or permanent injury; thus, the importance of having an assessment tool, such as ImPACT, for more accurate post-concussion evaluation.”

The regional high schools using ImPACT include: Altoona, Bishop Guilfoyle, Blackhawk, Butler Area, Fox Chapel, Franklin, Greensburg Central Catholic, Greensburg-Salem, Hollidaysburg, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks, Mt. Lebanon, Muncy District, New Brighton, North Catholic, Pine-Richland, Redbank Valley, Ringold, Shaler, South Allegheny, South Park, South Side Beaver, Upper St. Clair, West Allegheny and several schools in Ohio and West Virginia. Nationwide, more than 30 high schools also have invested in ImPACT.

The regional colleges using ImPACT include: University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Robert Morris College, Edinboro University, Lock Haven University, Westminster College and Slippery Rock University. Nationwide, more than 30 college football teams now use ImPACT.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first NFL team to use ImPACT last season. This year, the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles began using it.

Previously, a paper-and-pencil version of ImPACT was used by some NFL and NHL teams. “We needed a more time- and cost-efficient method of evaluating teams of athletes, especially at the high school level,” Dr. Lovell said. Pre-season baseline testing of groups or entire teams of athletes can be done efficiently at one time in a high school computer lab, for example. It can be administered by the school’s athletic trainer. The one-time cost for each school district to invest in the ImPACT software is between $500 and $750.

The UPMC Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program, established in September 2000, focuses on the diagnosis and management of sports-related concussions in athletes of all contact sports at all levels. For more information on ImPACT, please visit http://www.impacttest.com.

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