University of Notre Dame researchers have developed a simple testing system that can identify brain-injury patients who have potentially serious concussions by detecting abnormal speech patterns that are hallmarks of neurological damage.
The system, which can be administered by a smartphone or tablet, records the voices of athletes and others at risk of concussion before and after an injury, and then compares them for signature signs of traumatic brain damage, such as distorted vowels, imprecise constants, and “hyper nasality.”
"This project is a great example of how mobile computing and sensing technologies can transform healthcare," said Christian Poellabauer, an associate professor of computer science and engineering who helped lead the team that developed the system. "More important, because almost 90 percent of concussions go unrecognized, this technology offers tremendous potential to reduce the impact of concussive and sub-concussive hits to the head."
Poellabauer said Notre Dame's system has proven effective in preliminary tests on university athletes and offers a variety of advantages over traditional testing, such as portability, high accuracy, and low cost.
The inventors of the system noted it was developed amid growing concerns about the lasting impact of concussions on NFL players and other athletes. The high-profile deaths of former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson — who both committed suicide as a result of chronic traumatic
encephalopathy — have spotlighted the long-term risks of traumatic brain injuries.
In the United States, such injuries account for up to 3.8 million sports injuries every year, with approximately 300,000 diagnosed among young, nonprofessional athletes. They are also common among soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Individuals with brain injuries display a range of symptoms — such as headaches, depression, loss of memory, and loss of brain function — which may persist for weeks or months. But concussions are most devastating when they remain unrecognized for long periods of time.
Currently, concussion diagnoses rely on athletes’ reports of symptoms and the use of heavy medical equipment, such as a CT scanner, MRI, or X-ray machine, and are not always conclusive.
In addition to offering a number of advantage over traditional diagnostic techniques, the Notre Dame system was found to be effective in identifying concussions during tests of more than 200 university athletes during the 2012 sports season.
The testing was done in cooperation with James Moriarity, the university's chief sports medicine physician.
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