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With head injuries, a computer test can check for concussions

ImPACT, a computerized test to measure neuro-cognitive functioning,

ImPACT, a computerized test to measure neuro-cognitive functioning, is used by clinicians when a person has a head injury. Photo Credit: Fotolia

I’ve heard there’s a computer-based test student athletes can take that would be helpful if they ever have a concussion. What is it?

A common tool used by clinicians when a person has a head injury is ImPACT, a commercial product that’s a computerized test to measure neuro-cognitive functioning, says Dr. Thomas McDonagh, a pediatrician with Cohen Children’s Pediatrics in Huntington. Taking a baseline test before any injury enables doctors to compare those results against a post injury test to measure recovery, he says.

A tween or teen would take the 20-minute, noninvasive test sitting at a computer; the software program asks the child to complete tasks testing short- and long-term memory, processing speed and reaction time.

The objective testing helps determine when it’s safe for the child to return to playing sports, McDonagh says. “Prior to having that tool available, doctors would have to rely on symptoms, which would be a subjective report from an athlete who might have a secondary intent of wanting to return to play,” McDonagh says. While ImPACT isn’t the exclusive tool in determining recovery, it is a helpful one, he says.

Kids need to have their baseline test repeated every two to three years, McDonagh says. In addition to being used for athletes playing organized impact sports, the testing can also be useful for kids who engage in such activities as skiing or snowboarding.

Many school districts on Long Island offer the test to their athletes. Insurance doesn’t cover baseline testing, so McDonagh’s office, for instance, charges a nominal fee of $20 to his patients, he says. St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson also offers the testing to any parent who wants it, and also charges $20, says Laura Beck, director of the ThinkSmart! Concussion Program at St. Charles. Call 631-476-4323 for an appointment.

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