A team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame announced Monday a new sideline-concussion-detection tool that analyzes a student-athlete’s voice for the signs of a concussion.
Christian Poellabauer, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the university, and a team of colleagues and graduate students developed a tablet-based test in which student-athletes suspected of a concussion speak into a microphone to have their speech analyzed for acoustic features. The idea behind the test is that mild traumatic brain injuries (such as concussions) have an impact on things like the pitch and the fundamental frequencies in someone’s voice.
Therefore, an athlete can be given this test on the sidelines if suspected of a concussion, then referred to a medical team for further evaluation if the test suggests they have a concussion.
“This project is a great example of how mobile computing and sensing technologies can transform health care,” Poellabauer said in a statement. “More important, because almost 90 percent of concussions go unrecognized, this technology offers tremendous potential to reduce the impact of concussive and subconcussive hits to the head.” (The test won’t physically reduce impact of hits, but it could prevent student-athletes with concussions from further endangering themselves by continuing to play.)
You can see Poellabauer explain the test below (and watch a few wrestlers take the test, too), courtesy of the university’s YouTube channel:
As Poellabauer mentions in the video, the researchers tested their voice-based concussion-detection tool during two annual boxing tournaments at Notre Dame starting last year, the male Bengal Bouts in the spring and the female Baraka Bouts in the fall. The voice-based test detected nine concussions out of 125 participants in the 2012 Bengal Bouts, all of which were later confirmed by the Notre Dame medical team. The results from the 2013 Bengal Bouts are currently being compared to the findings of the medical team, according to a statement from the university.
While it’s not a sure-fire method of detecting whether a student-athlete has sustained a concussion—the student-athlete still must follow up with the medical team—a test like this could still end up being invaluable in K-12 sports. Anything that gives coaches a leg up in detecting potential concussions in their student-athletes, especially a test that’s relatively easy to give on the sideline, will only further the goal of improving student-athlete safety.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.