Existing tests may not be detecting brain function changes in young ice hockey players: study

Credit: Health and Technology District on Twitter

SFU PhD student Shaun Fickling demonstrates new technology. 

Report co-authored by SFU professor uses a new brainwave monitoring method

A new study shows that existing concussion protocol tests may not be detecting brain function changes in young ice hockey players diagnosed with concussions. 

The Canadian-American report, to be published in the February 2019 edition of Brain: A Journal of Neurology by Oxford Press, tracked the brain function of young Junior A male ice hockey players using a new brainwave monitoring method dubbed “brain vital signs.”

The term was created by the team behind the report, which includes SFU professor and co-founder of the Surrey-based health hub the Health and Technology District Ryan D’Arcy. 

D’Arcy, along with SFU PhD student Shaun Fickling, has been involved in a multi-year hockey concussion study with the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center.

The group came to the conclusion that brain vital signs are more sensitive in detecting brain function changes related to concussion than existing clinical tests for the ailment. The process translates complex brain waves from portable electroencephalography (EEG)—measurable at rinkside—into fast, user-friendly and intuitive results.

They also found that brain vital signs detected neurophysiological impairments, such as attention and cognitive processing deficits, in players who had been diagnosed with concussions and were cleared to return to play.

“Sports-related concussion is a major topic of discussion amongst scientists, clinicians, the medical community, the sports industry and various governmental agencies,” said Dr. D’Arcy in a release. “There is growing concern that concussions may be associated with an increased risk of persistent cognitive and mental health impairments later in life.”

He points out that despite dozens of clinical studies examining sports-related concussions, there remains a major gap in terms of objective, physiological measures of brain function that can be easily deployed and readily used at point-of-care.

The research team monitored and tracked 47 Tier III, Junior A, male ice hockey players over two seasons and divided the players into two groups: players who were diagnosed with concussions and those who were not. They used brain vital signs to conduct assessments at baseline, post-injury, return-to-play and post-season time points.