Screenshot of ImPACT test. Courtesy of UPMC.

Despite advances in medicine, concussions can still be difficult to detect, especially when they happen to children. Now the Pittsburgh-based company ImPACT will help doctors treat patients of all ages with the first medical devices created to identify and assess symptoms related to brain trauma.

ImPACT received permission from the FDA to market two new devices, the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) tool and the ImPACT Pediatric tool. Both will serve as part of the medical evaluations doctors perform on head injury patients to measure cognitive function immediately after a suspected concussion.

Designed for individuals between the ages of 12 and 59, ImPACT works by administering a series of computerized tests that assess a patient’s reaction time, memory, speed and ability to multitask. The resulting data allows doctors to decide if athletes can safely return to playing or if non-athletes can return to normal activity. It also assists in determining what kind of treatment should follow.

ImPACT Pediatric works the same as ImPACT, but is iPad-based and developed for children between the ages of 5 and 11. CEO Michael Wahlster believes the tool finally addresses a lack of efficient and effective ways to measure neurocognitive function for the age group.

“The FDA’s clearance is further support for ImPACT’s effectiveness as a tool that adds another level of accountability to the return-to-activity decisions of health care professionals who use ImPACT as part of their concussion management protocol,” he says.

“It is of particular value to pediatricians who are interested in offering baseline testing in a clinical setting as a part of their well-patient visit,” says Wahlster.

ImPACT and its pediatric counterpart come during a time when concussion awareness, especially regarding young athletes, is gaining traction. A study led by researchers at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute concluded that nearly 2 million children suffer sports-related concussions each year. In Pittsburgh, the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program reports that 70 percent of their patients are high school-aged.

Doctors at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, which sees 17,000 concussion patients each year, were also instrumental in developing ImPACT.

Much of the growing concern is due to research related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease discovered in 2005 by neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh. While CTE mostly affects pro athletes prone to repetitive mild brain injuries, including football and rugby players, even one concussion can lead to thinking and memory problems, as well as noticeable changes in behavior and mood.

Since its launch in 2006, ImPACT has been given to nearly 8 million test takers through high schools, colleges and universities, clinical centers and professional sports teams, as well as select military units.

To see the ImPACT device in action, watch the UPMC video below:

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...