Pittsburgh Technical Council

ImPACT: Improving the field of concussion assessment and treatment

ImPACT: Improving the field of concussion assessment and treatment

Article Published: February 13, 2015

By Michelle Szemanski, The Hardware Store

From Heinz Field to UPMC, Pittsburgh holds national recognition for its sports and its medicine. In the last 20 years it has also become the epicenter of concussion testing through ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing).

Founders Mark Lovell, Ph.D., Joseph Maroon, M.D., and Michael Collins, Ph.D. developed ImPACT in 2002 in coordination with the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). Their work has helped the NFL create guidelines to determine when it was safe for athletes to return to play post-concussion.

The test began as paper-and-pencil baseline questions that measured the concussed athlete’s response times against pre-concussion response, but has progressed into a comprehensive system of analysis.

The shift to online testing allows ImPACT to minimize the learning effect of the baseline test, randomizing test modules to ensure that athletes respond with their current mental capacity and not from memory. The test also includes both verbal and visual components to draw on different parts of the brain.

“At ImPACT we work every day to improve the field of concussion assessment and treatment,” said Jim Gyurke. “While we recognize that concussions will always be a part of sports and life in general, we are committed to finding ways to help people return to their activities, whether sports or work, as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Athletes now use ImPACT testing routinely, and Pennsylvania has become a national leader in “Return to Play” laws. ImPACT expanded beyond its original research, aggregating data from computerized baseline tests to create more accurate cognitive assessments. And while ImPACT was originally developed through UPMC, ImPACT conducts all research independently to ensure objective data.

Today, ImPACT aims to advance public awareness of concussion and push for new safety measures, such as “Return to Work” procedures.

ImPACT has been widely adopted in major sports leagues and in high school and college programs, but concussions happen outside of play. Concussions occur in car crashes, falls, and work-related accidents. People don’t always realize they need to heal before they go back to work, and concussion gets overlooked as a serious condition that can permanently damage someone’s mental ability.

Despite more than 15 years of research and highly visible public discussions, more work needs to be done, according to Gyurke. He noted that ImPACT testing alone does not provide a diagnosis, but can be used in tandem with clinical evaluation and vestibular evaluation so that doctors can identify concussion symptoms faster and start treatment. Public misperception and the constant improvement of test accuracy challenges ImPACT to increase both education and efficacy.

From the original headquarters in Pittsburgh, ImPACT has expanded across the U.S. to become both geographically and culturally diverse. But the teams at ImPACT are still united by common purpose, working to provide education, services, and outreach. As ImPACT gains momentum and recognition, the teams hope their work will help to continue the public discussion at all levels of athletics and the workplace.

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