With all the press on NFL concussions in recent years, Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (mTBI) are now being recognized as a major health concern, not just for professional athletes, but also for children. Most of the solutions for the concussion crisis focus either on preventing injuries before they happen or by assessing the impacts of mTBIs on brain function.
However, serious concussions can have effects lasting six months or longer, often impairing a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. The traditional treatment of simply resting is also problematic, with research showing that too much rest can actually be harmful. For this reason, discovering treatments which can actively improve recovery outcomes could be of tremendous value to the millions of people who suffer concussions each year.
Breaking New Ground in Concussion Research
In the first research project of its kind, neuroscientists from McGill University, the University of Montreal, the University of Calgary, the University of Victoria, and the Montreal Children’s Hospital, pooled their expertise to see if NeuroTracker training provides a useful role in the management of concussions. Specifically, this group wanted to investigate if training visual perception could be beneficial for stimulating recovery in children and youth.
They chose NeuroTracker as a promising tool for both the assessment and treatment of mTBIs, partly because training effects follow a predictable learning curve across different populations. In addition, previous research has shown that NeuroTracker training improves cognitive and spatial navigation deficits, which post-concussed children are particularly vulnerable to.
What Was Studied
Children and youth, aged 9–18 years, completed 18 NeuroTracker Core sessions spread out over 6 visits. To provide a control group comparison, just over half the participants had no history of mTBI, whereas the rest were in the post-acute stages of concussion recovery (symptom-free).
What Was Found
Both groups improved on the NeuroTracker task over the course of the training. The control group showed a consistent learning curve, with a 79% increase in NeuroTracker scores over the course of the training.
Although the post-concussion group started off with similar initial scores, they showed almost no learning effects over the first 6 sessions. Then over the remaining 12 sessions their learning curves closely matched the control group. This left a 66% overall improvement in NeuroTracker scores. The difference to the control group was specific to the delayed learning effects over the first 6 sessions.
What It Means
The researchers found the initial lack of learning in the post-concussion group to be of particular interest. These indicated cognitive deficits in individuals who were clinically asymptomatic, and would typically be considered fit for return to activity. The authors stated that “These results provide further support that cognitive deficits in youth post-mTBI may persist, even upon return to activities, and help stress the importance of developing assessment tools to better assess clinical recovery in pediatrics mTBI.”
Of most interest, for several reasons, was the relatively sudden recovery of learning ability after 6 sessions of training.
Firstly, this showed that youth with a recent history of concussion can benefit from NeuroTracker training with significant learning effects.
Secondly, the measurable change in the brain’s ability to learn and adapt, may provide a valuable new indicator for guiding return-to-activity decisions.
Thirdly, the data suggests that NeuroTracker training itself may actually stimulate recovery of lost cognitive abilities.
Finally, other studies show that learning on NeuroTracker transfers to significant gains in executive function, attention, working memory, and visual processing speed – all cognitive abilities commonly impaired by the effects of concussions.
The study concluded that NeuroTracker could serve as an inexpensive and easily accessible tracker of recovery for youth with mTBIs, and that training could be of direct benefit during the concussion recovery process.
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