Concussion Headset Indicates When it’s Safe to Get Back in the Game

A new digital headset measures brain function alterations that could help coaches, players, and doctors decide how quickly an athlete is ready to return to the field after a concussion. UC San Francisco researchers say it revealed brain changes even in athletes whose concussion symptoms had gone away—indicating that players may be returning to the game too soon.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t weighed in on the device yet, but it could become important to those concerned about the long-term effects of repeated sports-related concussions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases.

The headset, patented by UCSF and licensed by MindRhythm, detected changes in what the researchers call “headpulse,” subtle forces exerted on the skull as the heart contracts. They tested the device on 101 young adults playing Australian Rules Football who had experienced 44 concussions. The results appeared in JAMA Network Open, and indicated that changes in the brain lasted 12 days longer than the players’ symptoms. Researchers said the headset should be used in conjunction with medical expertise.

Playing sports with a concussion puts the brain at increased risk of damage. A rare condition called “second impact syndrome,” where a second concussion soon after the first can cause near-immediate brain death. More commonly, however, playing sports with a concussion may increase the risk of subsequent brain injury due to delayed reaction time, impaired balance, or vision.

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