UA group developing app to educate athletes and parents about concussions

Sep 28, 2015, 6:30 AM
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A new app could give athletes a glimpse of what it’s like to get a concussion.

Dr. Johnathan Lifshitz is the director of translational neurotrauma research for Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. He is part of a team that is developing the App that puts users on a virtual athletic field and shows them what having a concussion might be like.

“[They would] virtually experience what [it’s] like to receive the concussion in terms of the impact, but then what are the neurological consequences of the concussion,” said Lifshitz.

One of the virtual consequences they would experience is double vision. “With the program in the app, you can actually have the image look as if it was double vision,” he said.

They’re building the app in an attempt to win the NCAA Mind Matters Challenge. It is part of a $30 million joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Defense to educate student-athletes and soldiers about concussions.

The group has already advanced to the second round of the competition, and has received $100,000 to build a prototype. The winning prototype will be made available to some 400,000 NCAA student athletes. If all goes well, it could soon be available for a free download on smart phones.

“We are targeting for it to be available by the end of this calendar year, or the beginning of 2016,” Lifshitz said. “It is targeted to be available for Apple platforms and for Android platforms.”

Another UA doctor, Hirsch Handmaker, said that the app would be a useful tool. “The app really is to make athletes, and everyone actually, aware of what the symptoms are and what they see and what they experience, and then impress upon them the need that if they see any of these symptoms, that the danger is going back to play, or back to school, or back to work, before the brain is healed.”

Handmaker said the app can be used to teach people to pay attention to the possibility of concussions. “There are things we can do to prevent the bad things, as much as possible, by education and awareness,” he said.

He added that both parents and students need to remember that if there are signs of a concussion, you need to stay out of a game. Handmaker also said that parents need to support coaches who put their kids health ahead of the team.

“Parents on the sideline are very proud of their kids, and want them to play, and want them to be tough,” Handmaker said. “Pulling a kid out of the game is a tough decision for a coach or a trainer or anyone on the sideline. But we need the support of the parent that it’s the right thing to do.”

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UA group developing app to educate athletes and parents about concussions