Brain waves may provide accurate way to measure concussions

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For doctors, treating and evaluating a concussion is complicated. Symptoms and reactions vary from person to person. (KABC)

If someone appears to have a concussion, doctors have to make a diagnosis based on symptoms and how well a patient does on a neurological exam. MRIs don't always tell the whole story.

Now, researchers say brain waves may provide an accurate way for doctors to measure a concussion.

Heading the ball is part of the game, but it can be dangerous. Emily Carman, 18, plays for Loyola Marymount University.

"I was playing in a soccer game on September 4th, and I got kicked in the head by cleats," said Carman.

Right after, she started feeling "dizzy and woozy. My teammates told me I was acting weird, and I really didn't remember what was happening," said Carman.

Before her season started, Emily's neurologist Dr. Vernon Williams at the Kerlan-Jobe Center did a baseline assessment of her brain's various functions using a test called Brain Network Activation.

"We can identify networks associated with attention, and we can identify networks associated with working memory," said Williams.

How well Carman's brain performs in these areas provide doctors with bio-markers to assess her injury.

"We can compare those networks in an individual who suffered a concussion with a normal network," said Williams.

What experts say is most promising about brain network activation is that it can provide doctors with a road map as to when it's safe to return to play.

"In the past, I couldn't continue playing soccer until my symptoms went completely away," said Carman.

Sitting out a game is one of the hardest things to do for an athlete. Williams says even though Carman still has a few symptoms, he's clearing her to play because her test shows her brain functions are normal. Studies show this can actually help with healing.

"Activating the brain at some degree of physical exertion may be beneficial, not in the acute phase, not immediately after the concussion, but over the next days to weeks," said Williams.

Williams expects more doctors will be using this technology.

"It just provides another objective tool in this concussion management strategy," said Williams.

Williams says with all the concern about concussions in the Major Leagues, brain network activation can also be helpful in treating and following players in the NFL. He's performed many baselines himself on local professional athletes.
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