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Neurocognitive Tests Trump Self Reports When Assessing Concussion Recovery

Update Date: Aug 08, 2013 09:55 AM EDT

Neurocognitive tests may be more accurate than self-reports when evaluating concussion recovery, a new study suggests.

Concussions, which are traumatic brain injuries that alter the way the brain functions, have recently become a huge public health issue.  While the effects of concussion are usually temporary, it can include problems with headache, concentration, memory, judgment, balance and coordination.

A new study on concussions in cheerleaders questions the ability of athletes to genuinely recognize their own symptoms and recovery.

Return-to-play guidelines have relied on athletes' self reports.  However, many are worried that athletes aren't able to truly recognize if they've fully recovered.

Researchers in the new study wanted to evaluate of neurocogntive testing compared with self-reported symptoms of concussions in cheerleaders.

The study involved 138 junior and senior high school cheerleaders with concussions. Participants underwent pre-season baseline neurocognitive testing and completed at least one follow-up evaluation within 7 days of injury using Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT).

"We hypothesized that the use of ImPACT would result in an increased capacity to detect and measure post-concussive abnormalities in cheerleaders compared with symptom assessment alone," researcher Dr. Mark R. Lovell from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said in a news release.

Researchers said all concussions were diagnosed by a doctor, athletic trainer, or a school health care official present at the time of injury.

Study results revealed that 62 percent of the cheerleaders reported an increase in symptoms after a concussion compared with their baseline. More importantly, 33 percent of the cheerleaders who denied an increase in concussion symptoms had at least one ImPACT score that exceeded index criteria. Researchers said the findings mean that cheerleaders reported their symptoms inaccurately, overestimated their recovery, or were unaware of their decreased neurocognitive performance.

Researchers said the findings show that neurocognitive assessment could be a useful tool to evaluate when cheerleaders with concussion have returned to normalized baseline measures.

"It is common knowledge that athletes may at times minimize or deny symptoms after injury to avoid being removed from competition," co-author Dr. Gary Solomon said in a statement.

The findings are published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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