Athletes may be required to take concussion tests
As students, parents and coaches prepare for the start of the fall sports season, the school district has been considering adding a new requirement for all athletes in grades seven through 12.
“I’m curious how this board would feel about making it a requirement to have the ImPACT baseline concussion test for all of our student athletes,” said Activities Director Erin Anderson at the July Perham-Dent School Board meeting. “I think it’s worthy of discussion and it’s something we want to consider.”
A baseline test is not currently required by the Minnesota State High School League for student athletes, Anderson said. However, that does not mean the test isn’t worthwhile.
Anderson told the Focus that Perham’s students and athletes have been encouraged to take the baseline test over the past few years. It is available without charge through a partnership with Perham Health.
The test’s results are good for two years.
ImPACT stands for “immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing.” It is a concussion management program that has been adopted by professional sports teams as well as at least 7,400 high schools, 1,000 colleges or universities and other groups around the world.
“It’s just a test on a computer,” said school board member and doctor Vince Pankonin, who administers the test through Perham Health. “It takes maybe half an hour, I suppose.”
The test measures a student’s reaction time, comprehension, memory and other factors that can be affected by a concussion in order to record a benchmark of what is his or her “normal.”
“It’s a tough test,” Pankonin said, when asked if fifth and sixth graders playing contact football should also be included. He thought the test may be too difficult for children at that age, resulting in more mistakes and a less reliable assessment.
If a student should get a concussion, he or she will re-take the test during recovery to measure how those same functions have reached their original levels. These results would be paired with a doctor’s assessment to ensure the injury heals entirely.
Sometimes, concussion symptoms can last for months or years. Former Minnesota Twins baseball player Justin Morneau got a knee to the helmet and suffered a concussion in the 2010 season and has only recently returned to playing at his former skill level.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that can be caused by a blow to the head. Most of these injuries occur without a loss of consciousness, and symptoms of a concussion may not be noticeable until weeks after the initial injury.
“Even a ‘ding,’ ‘getting your bell rung,’ or what seems to be a mild bump or blow to the head can be serious,” said the CDC page on concussions. “Concussions can occur in any sport or recreation activity.”
“We dealt with a handful of concussions in the last school year throughout all levels and different activities,” said Anderson. “This year on the varsity level, we managed concussions in football, boys and girls basketball, wrestling and gymnastics. It can affect any of our sports, really.”
ImPACT is not a “cure-all for concussion, as there is no such thing,” said the program’s website. Instead, the test and its accompanying program are intended to be used as tools for caregivers to evaluate and manage athletes’ progress in healing from a concussion and regaining full brain function.
“Unfortunately, concussions are a potential reality of sports, and probably one of the most common injuries we are now seeing,” said Anderson. “With all the new education and information we have about concussions, one of the best things they (parents) could do for their child as a preventative measure would be to get the baseline test. This way, we have it on file, and it takes a lot of guessing out of the recovery process for the doctors and it allows for the student to return to play faster and more safely.”
Board member Sue Von Ruden said her daughter, Ella, got a concussion while playing basketball after taking the baseline.
“There’s peace of mind from the parent perspective on it,” said Von Ruden. “You know they are not going back to play until they are fully recovered.”
Taking time to recover from a concussion is important.
In an interview after the board meeting, Pankonin said that, especially in sports, playing with a concussion can be dangerous – especially if the athlete’s reaction time is still slow.
“If you’re playing volleyball and the ball is coming at you – hard – can you react quickly to hit the ball?” he asked. If not, that could lead to another injury with more serious consequences.
Those who return to vigorous activity before completely healing “risk a greater chance of having a repeat concussion,” according to the CDC. “Repeat or later concussions can be very serious. They can cause permanent brain damage. Repeated mild traumatic brain injuries occurring within a short period of time can be catastrophic or fatal.”
As the CDC reminded athletes in its Heads Up awareness campaign, “It’s better to miss one game than the whole season.”
“I think this is the way to go,” said board member Jim Rieber. “I think that this type of thing, it protects us from liability and shows that we’re taking all of the precautions necessary and we have quality-based programs in place to protect the kids.”
The board decided to wait and vote on the matter in August. Any parents, coaches or community members who would like to share their thoughts on requiring the test are encouraged to attend the next school board meeting and share their thoughts.
Whether or not the board decides to require the baseline test, Anderson said, the test will be available, for no charge, for students who would like to take it. A time has not yet been scheduled for the test, and multiple sessions may be offered.
The next school board meeting will be Wednesday, Aug. 20 at 5 p.m. in the Perham High School student union.