August 14, 2018

Combating Concussions with MCRI’s HeadCheck

Hanna Phelan

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s (MCRI) newly released HeadCheck app, developed in partnership with health technology developer Curve Tomorrow and the Australian Football League (AFL), is an example of how digital tools can help combat the problem of concussions.

A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury, in which there is a traumatically-induced alteration in a person’s mental status, with or without an associated loss of consciousness. Effectively, a concussion is an impact that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. Contact sports, like boxing, American football, Australian football and rugby, are the biggest risk factor for a concussion. It is unlikely, however, that people will stop playing these sports or that the rules will be greatly amended to prevent concussions. Therefore, we must get better at identifying head injuries, taking the proper steps for treatment and examining how to minimise the damage.

In 2015, Will Smith starred in “Concussion,” which told the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist, discovered during an autopsy that former Pittsburgh Steelers centre Mike Webster suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Last year, a JAMA study found that CTE was present in 99 percent of the 111 studied brains from symptomatic deceased NFL players. We now have the evidence on the impact of concussions, once termed the black box of medicine, and it has moved beyond an anecdotal number of cases. To date, 4,000 former players have filed lawsuits alleging that the National Football League failed to protect them from the long-term health consequences of concussion.We know the the short and long term side effects of concussion. We now need to become better at managing a concussion and preventing long term damage. The biggest risk factor for a concussion is contact sports: boxing, american football australian football, rugby - the list goes on. Are we going to stop playing to play these sports as a means to prevent? I don’t think so. Are we going to make them non contact? I don’t think so either. We need to get better at identifying a concussion, taking the proper steps in treating them, and looking at how to minimise the damage.Unfortunately, concussions are notoriously difficult to diagnose. Parents, teachers, trainers and coaches need support in order to recognise the signs of concussion, determine its severity and manage care. This May, MCRI and Curve Tomorrowreleased the HeadCheck child concussion app, which was developed in partnership with the AFL.

The app is underpinned by research conducted by MCRI to develop the first evidence-based guidelines for the management of concussions in children, which has been endorsed by the International Concussion in Sports Group (ICSG) and sporting codes worldwide. HeadCheck helps parents determine the best medical care options post-concussion incident. It offers a personalised recovery plan so that the child gets back to school, practice and sports safely. The app’s focus on children is particularly important given that children and adolescents are more vulnerable to concussions because they do not have fully myelinated brains, meaning children’s nerve cells - and their connections - do not have the coating and insulation of adult brains.

As demonstrated by HeadCheck, digital provides a way for the community to access the latest evidence-based advice to help coaches, parents and first aiders detect when a child has potentially suffered a concussion, take the proper precautions and get the necessary medical care.

To date, 4,000 former football players have filed lawsuits alleging that the National Football League failed to protect them from the long-term health consequences of concussion. Let's start protecting our players.

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