Innovative test uses sound to detect concussions

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On the Medical Watch, using sound to detect concussion. A novel diagnostic tool is helping scientists reliably see and hear the effects of a hit to the head.

The tool uses simple and familiar sounds, but processing them is no easy task.

Dr Nina Kraus, Northwestern Medicine Neuroscientist: “Processing sound is one of the most complex jobs that your brain has to perform. And so it really makes sense that if we get hit in the head that is going to disrupt that very complex machinery.”

Neuroscientist Dr Nina Kraus and her team tracked 40 young concussion patients along with a control group. Using electrodes, they measured brain activity as the study participants listened to various sounds.

Dr Kraus: People have reported that following concussion it`s difficult to follow sounds and make sense of them.

Their hearing is fine, but after a direct or indirect blow to the head, the brain is jostled within the skull. And what Dr Kraus found was concussion patients are left with a distinct auditory deficit -- a 35 percent smaller brain response to pitch.

The auditory response test not only identifies brain injury, it`s able to track healing. As the patients recovered from their concussions, their ability to process sound improved.

Dr Nina Kraus: You want to know how is this particular child doing? Is he getting better? Is his brain recovering? This is another index that could indicate that the child is ready to return to the field.

Sports Medicine Physician Dr Cynthia Labella treats concussed patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital. She evaluates them using a variety of tools including balance and cognitive tests.

Dr Cynthia Labella: All of those things while seemingly objective the patient being tested still has to put in the required effort. The beauty of this test is that is all taken out of the picture. The patient barely even knows what`s being measured ... it`s a truly objective test.

Right now the test is not portable but Dr Kraus envisions a simple headband and diagnostic device that could be used on the sidelines or in a doctor`s office.