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Tracking concussions with video games

May 31, 2012 3:12:36 PM PDT
On average, someone suffers a concussion about every 25-seconds in this country and because symptoms can vary widely, knowing exactly when a patient is ready to get back in the game can be tricky.

But now, athletic trainers are taking a new approach to charting a patient's progress. They're asking them to play video games.

After missing several weeks because of a head injury, Anthony Flowers is finally back in the game. While he doesn't remember the kick to the head that sidelined him, he says he'll never forget the feeling of his first concussion.

"I had a headache, I was nauseous for a little bit. Really slow, it kind of took me a while to get used to kind of moving again," Flowers said.

Before being allowed to return to normal activities, concussion patients like Anthony are put through a battery of tests in which athletic trainers look for errors in everything from eye exams to balance tests. Although with current methods there can be drawbacks.

"It's very subjective in how you measure the errors and it might also have some differences between testers," Tamerah Hunt, Ph.D. at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, said.

So in an effort to make concussion tests more consistent, trainers are turning to video games.

At the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, researchers are using things like yoga games to analyze balance and even social media themed games to chart mental progress.

"We're trying to make the process of recovery a little bit more engaging for patients, and also make their data, their information, their outcomes, a little more transparent to them," Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, said.

OSU sports medicine experts say there are more expensive and complex machines for testing a patient's progress, but studies show games may be just as reliable. Not only are the results consistent, but athletes often relish the challenge.

"And so it's become very competitive and they enjoy it. Versus saying, 'Oh, this is just another concussion test that I have to take.' And so they've been very, very respectful of the tool," Dr. Hunt said.

A tool that's easy to find and is not only portable, but affordable as well.

Trainers at Ohio State are teaming up with the University of Maryland to test the balance of athletes using the Wii game. It has been used as a rehabilitation tool for other diseases, but this is the first time it's being used to chart the progress of patients with concussions.

If you'd like more information go to the Ohio State University Medical Center website www.medicalcenter.osu.edu and click on "news & media room."

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