NAU Researchers Study Lingering Effects of Athletic Concussions

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NAU researchers study academic performance following a head injury.

After a concussion, a college athlete’s rush to return to the field raises questions of game-time performance and safety, but the lingering effects might just show up in academics.

Two Northern Arizona University researchers are improving how injured athletes are evaluated and connecting those who need extra rehabilitation to on-campus resources. Their collaborative project will generate baseline data about NAU football athletes and women’s soccer players that can be used to show when a dip in grades and cognitive function may be traced to residual concussion symptoms.

“We just want to be sure student athletes are going to be successful when they return to academics,” said Emi Isaki, Assistant Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders. “Usually there’s a dramatic change in academic performance following a head injury, and that’s what we don’t want to see. We can help the student out before that happens.”

Isaki’s collaborator in the interdisciplinary project is Scot Raab, Assistant Professor in the Athletic Training program. Both work in the College of Health and Human Services.

While Isaki and Raab said standard evaluations are generally effective, they could still be more thorough, especially considering athletes are highly motivated to return as quickly as possible. Regardless of any pressure they may feel, Raab said, sometimes they truly are not aware of having symptoms.

“Maybe their head doesn’t hurt, the knot is gone and they can see clearly and balance,” Raab said. “They may even have passed the accepted protocols for their return to action. But then they find that after three or four hours of class, they have that ‘mental fogginess’ and fatigue. We need a longer battery of tests to measure them.

With initial funding from the Technology Initiative Research Fund, via the Arizona Board of Regents, Isaki and Raab plan to use the data they gather in January 2014 to apply for a National Institutes of Health grant that would extend the project into a multi-year longitudinal study.

The aim is to explore long-term residual effects. As Raab put it, “We need to explore that whole middle area from day 21 to year 21. That’s something we’ve never measured before.”

--courtesy of NAU Public Affairs