Indiana University is participating in the largest-ever research project on concussions in sports. The Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium, or CARE Consortium, aims to address how concussion occur and their long-term implications.
The NCAA and the Department of Defense are funding the research at IU and nearly 30 other universities across the country.
The research tracks a group that’s often overlooked when it comes to concussions.
All IU Athletes Participating In Concussion Study
Cheerleading’s been a passion for Abigail Cohen since she was in 7th grade.
“I love being a part of the school, I love cheering games,” Cohen says.
She’s a member of IU’s cream squad, where you can see her flying high at football and basketball games. But she thinks about stunts differently after what she experienced at a cheer practice over the summer.
“I just had a really bad headache and that sometimes happens when you hit your head,” she says. “But then I waited it out a little bit and then a few hours later I still had a really bad headache, I woke up with a headache and then I went in and took the test.”
Cohen went in for concussion testing and, because she’s an athlete at IU, trainers had a baseline test to compare her results to. The university is participating in the CARE Consortium, a national project that tracks the effects of concussions over time.
“With cheerleading specifically we’re gathering some data that some people may not think, ‘Hey concussions can happen with this sport.'”
As part of the research, student athletes undergo an initial neurocognitive assessment.
“So the neurocognitive, cognitive assessments, postural, all are performed at baseline so before the first contact or first official practice,” says IU Research Assistant and Athletic Trainer Kyle Winters. “And then as soon as a student athlete sustains a concussion, we’ll follow up with the same assessments immediately.”
The university also follows up with athletes at five pre-determined points during their time at IU and plans to track them for several years after graduation. The focus isn’t just on the physical impact of concussions, but also the psychological.
And the research involves all student athletes, including women. That’s a group that is often excluded from studies and the national debate about concussion safety.
“With cheerleading specifically we’re gathering some data that some people may not think ‘hey concussions can happen with this sport,'” Winters says. “Just because of the impact with the stunting, all of the various drills they do, especially with swimming and diving. We see most of our injuries happen with the 10-meter dive, which is the high diver.”
Results Of Research Could Lead To Changes In Collegiate, Professional Sports
By tracking the athletes long term, study participants hope to learn more about how they can impact athletes’ physical and mental health long after they’ve sustained a concussion.
“It’s a brand new field from a research standpoint,” says Dr. Nicholas Port, an associate professor at the IU School of Optometry and IU’s principal investigator on the project. “There was very little research that was happening before 2000, certainly into 2005. And then as public awareness became much greater on the topic, we realized that there was a real need for further research.”
Port says the project could have a significant impact not just on approaches taken with college sports, but also on those playing at the youth and professional levels.
“It will allow us to create the next set of sport-related concussion guidelines.”
“I think this will allow us to have better tools for diagnosing concussions and better tools for managing concussions,” he says. “It will allow us to create the next set of sport-related concussion guidelines.”
Cohen says being part of the study made her feel more comfortable when it came time to return to practice following her concussion. The testing helped her coach know when she was truly ready.
She’s fine now, but her experience changed her mindset when it comes to safety.
“We’re definitely more cautious,” she says. “All the boys on my team know that once you’ve had a concussion once, you really don’t want to have another one. So when we do try new stunts we’re really cautious about if people are around spotting.”
IU researchers hope the data collection period of the project will be extended.