Baseline Testing: Critical Part Of Concussion Care

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The sport of hockey is everything to Cooper Cavicchea. The 10 year old plays for the Ohio Triple A Blue Jackets at Center which is comparable to a quarterback in football.   

His mom, Kristin, says she's amazed at how he plays and she's also concerned about her son suffering an injury.

Cooper's team, also known as the "oh-fives" indicating their birth year of 2005, hasn't started the hitting often associated with hockey.   Their focus is on skill and skating.   

But Kristin says she knows there is always a chance Cooper could get hurt.

"I've seen many injuries on the ice. One of them will inadvertently hit the boards hard, smack their head on the ledge, on the wall or hit their head on the ice,” Kristin said.

One of her biggest concerns is concussion, which she tells 10TV she has been straightforward about explaining.

"I kind of explained it to him that your brain is in your head and if it hits real hard on a solid spot it's shaking in there and that's what causes the damage,"  Kristin said.

The Caviccheas have taken advantage of what's called a baseline test at Nationwide Children's Hospital Westerville Sports Medicine Center.

While it looks like a computer game, the baseline test shows how a child's brain works without injury by assessing an athlete's balance and brain function.   

Doctors say it is best to have a baseline before they get concussed so that if they do get injured, there are exam results showing the child's normal brain status for comparison.   

Nationwide Children's Hospital Sports Medicine Chief Dr. Thomas Pommering says if your child is in a sport where there is a risk of concussion or head injury, and then it's time for this test. 

"What we do with baseline testing is we examine their neurocognitive functioning with things such as reaction time, memory and how fast they process things,” Dr. Pommering said.

Doctors say they see concussions in all sports:  hockey, football, basketball, soccer-- and Dr. Pommering recalls treating water athletes for brain injury.

"We've even seen swimmers with concussion who have bumped their head into the wall," he said.

Girls are up to four times more susceptible than boys when you consider the same sport like basketball and soccer. 

Medical experts have a couple of theories about why that is.

One is that girls' necks aren't as strong so when they get hit in the head they're not able to slow the rotation. The other theory is that girls are more forthcoming about their symptoms than boys.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of concussion is critical.  

Doctors say it's critical for student athletes, their coaches and parents to know the signs and symptoms of concussion which include:  dizziness, headache, nausea, balance, fatigue, sensitivity to light and or noise.

The benefit of a baseline exam can really payoff the first time a young athlete suffers a head injury and concussion is suspected.  Dr.  Pommering says it provides a basis of comparison.  

"We will retest their computerized neurocognitive tests and they will often have slower reaction times, they can't recall things as easily as they did before and can't process things as quickly and you have to remember they're taking basically the same test they took the first time," he said.

When you consider there's no way to prevent a concussion, protecting the young athlete's brain from injury is the immediate priority. 

It's also important to have proper fitting equipment, skills and form training along with a concussion baseline can help ensure they're safe, healthy and fit for competition.

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