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Effects of smaller head impacts on young athletes studied with B.C.-made brain scanner

Click to play video: 'Repeated head bumps impair teen brain function' Repeated head bumps impair teen brain function
WATCH: New research, led in part by researchers at Simon Fraser University, is leading to a new understanding of just how little it takes for repeated head bumps to impair cognitive functions. The researchers studied Bantam (14 and under) and Junior (16 - 20) hockey players and found repeated head injuries - none of them causing a concussion - impaired brain function over the course of a season – Apr 22, 2021

New technology allowing the assessment of head impacts at rink- or field-side could open the door to new concussion treatments and safer sport, according to a group of B.C. and U.S. researchers.

It’s part of the findings of a new study published in the journal Brain Communication involving teams from Simon Fraser University and the Mayo Clinic, which sheds new light on the cumulative impact of repeated, smaller sub-concussive injuries that don’t produce immediate symptoms.

Read more: Hitting concussion research, prevention and management in B.C. head on

Researchers fitted junior A (aged 16-20) and bantam (aged 14 and under) minor hockey players’ helmets with sensors to measure impact and took brain wave readings at rink side over the course of a season.

Researchers then compared that data, allowing them both to track sensitive, smaller changes in brain activity and to rule out other potential causes.

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“The major advance in this research is around changing the way we look at concussion as a one time event that may or may not be serious, and actually focusing on athletes that didn’t get concussed, but (where) the physical contact of the game over the course of a season caused what we call sub-concussive impacts,” SFU neuroscientist and study collaborator Dr. Dr. Ryan D’Arcy said.

Click to play video: 'Hockey Alberta ramps up concussion education' Hockey Alberta ramps up concussion education
Hockey Alberta ramps up concussion education – Sep 16, 2020

“We looked at the difference between the beginning of a hockey season and the end of a hockey season, we could detect impairment in their cognitive processing by measuring their brain waves.”

Read more: Study finds concussion rates for kids under 5 higher than previously believed

The data showed a “clear and very strong” relationship between the number of impacts a player took and their cognitive functioning, D’Arcy said.

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The data was gathered with a portable brain-scanning device called the NeuroCatch, developed by a Surrey, B.C. company, D’Arcy heads.

The device, which received Health Canada approval in 2019, is essentially a hood or cap with sensors allowing it to record and quickly report electroencephalograph data.

D’Arcy described the tool as a key innovation in concussion research, allowing medical professionals to perform sensitive and objective measurement of changes in the brain where athletes are, not at a clinic.

“We have to focus on managing the accumulation of sub-concussive or concussive impacts, and coming up with ways not only to manage it but to treat it,” D’Arcy said.

“Actually it’s a very optimistic study because those ways are coming, and so we’ll be able to start measuring which ones work, and allow our athletes to feel safe.”

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