NYU Langone Researchers Develop App-Centered Program to Track Concussion Recovery

January 13, 2016 Updated: January 14, 2016

A concussion is a brain injury that can disrupt or even permanently damage brain function. Although the condition is considered a minor brain injury, it may trigger very serious problems down the road such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and severe disorientation.

Growing awareness of the risks associated with concussions are prompting both student and professional athletes to take head injury much more seriously.

Since those who sustain one concussion are at greater risk for further brain trauma, it is essential that athletes stay off the field until they make a full recovery.

Example of what happens to one’s brain inside the skull, when impacted by an outside force. (Wikimedia Commons)

The NYU Langone Medical Center is developing an app-centered program that can help doctors keep a closer eye on concussion recovery. The first step is their Concussion Tracker app, which is designed to record information about a player’s physical and cognitive function after a concussion has been diagnosed.

The mobile app is already available for a free download at the Apple app store, and NYU researchers encourage all athletes who have suffered a concussion to give it a try. NYU is currently recruiting for a study, and any athletes who have recently been diagnosed with a concussion may participate.

Typically, athletes diagnosed with concussions only check in with their doctors every few weeks when they come in for an appointment. But according to Dr. Paul Testa, study co-leader, ER doctor, and chief of medical information at NYU Langone, tracking recovery with more detail on a more regular basis through an app will allow researchers to evaluate treatment in ways never before possible.

“I’m an ER doc, so I’m used to people coming into the ER with small pieces of paper, where they write down symptoms, daily blood pressure measurements, or medications,” Testa said. “Instead of getting a glimpse of their symptoms every two weeks, this app gives a really refined look at symptom evaluation on a daily basis.”

Although the app itself does not diagnose or treat brain trauma, researchers say that daily surveillance will allow doctors to identify injuries that cause persistent problems. Testa says the data that researchers collect will go toward developing another app that clinicians can use to evaluate recovery, and may even shape future recovery protocols.

(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The mobile app is already available for a free download at the Apple app store. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“After being diagnosed with concussion, people are primarily told to rest,” Testa said. “But 50 years ago that’s the same thing we said with heart attack, and we now know that wasn’t right so we evolved our treatment.”

Athletes who enroll in the study will use the concussion app to track the development of their symptoms (such as balance issues, blurred vision, and drowsiness), record their level of concentration, and measure their performance in a six-minute walking test.

Testa says that fostering a closer connection between doctor and patient will benefit everyone.

“Just the way more information helps the doc, more information helps the patient too,” he said. “What is rest for me and rest for a 22-year-old varsity athlete are very different things. So if someone thinks they’re resting but they’re actually more active than you want them to be, you can address that right away.”

Follow Conan on Twitter: @ConanMilner