Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have been studying a test that can be used to test athletes with head impacts during a game. Called the King-Devick test, it measures rapid eye movement and attention – both of which are affected by concussions.
Athletes are first given a baseline test at the beginning of a season – to measure response time as they read single-digit numbers displayed on cards. Then, during a game when the player experiences a suspected head trauma, the player is given the test again. If it takes longer to complete the test after an injury, the player is taken out of the game and given medical attention.
The test was tried out on high school hockey players. After taking the baseline test, 20 of 150 players had suspected concussions and were given the test; all 20 had a delayed reaction time compared to their baseline when tested right after the injury, and all 20 were later diagnosed with concussions.
The results were an important validation that the test can work for high school athletes. Dr. Amaal Starling, a Mayo Clinic neurologist and study co-author, said:
“Youth athletes are at a higher risk for concussion and a longer recovery time than adults. While the test has already been clinically validated for detecting concussion in collegiate and professional athletes, we wanted to ensure it was also validated in adolescents.”
The study detected another benefit of the King-Devick test. Not only did it detect concussions right after they occurred, but at the end of the season when players were tested again, unknown injuries were detected. Some additional players’ end-of-season test time showed delays from the pre-season test – these were determined to be from head injuries that weren’t reported, either deliberately to hide the injury, or unknowingly.
A study co-author summed up the extra findings:
“King-Devick testing may not only be a valuable remove-from-play tool, but may detect those who may have suffered a silent or unreported concussion and identify those athletes who may need further evaluation before returning to play the next season.”
The King-Devick test has potential to be a useful tool in many youth sports. The good news is that it is not an expensive tool, and it can be easily administered by non-medical staff.