New helmet-mounted sensor aims to combat the dangers of concussions in football

Published: Tuesday, June 4 2013 4:45 p.m. MDT

“The risk of the second impact is you don’t recognize the first one. People can have a concussion on the field and then there’s a priming effect,” Couldwell said. “So, if they get hit again in a defined period of time, usually in the same game or shortly thereafter, they can have a worsening effect from the second injury.”

To combat SIS cases, researchers are turning to a helmet-mounted brain sensor. The device, which alerts medical personnel that a player needs prompt evaluation for concussion symptoms, was used in an AFL scrimmage between Jacksonville and Orlando earlier this spring.

“Essentially it’s an impact sensor that’s placed on the back of the football helmet,” George Scott, an attorney with Brain Sentry, the company distributing the product to the AFL, said. “The sensor will detect whether or not the player has suffered an impact which puts (them) in the range of statistical danger of increased possibility of concussion.”

The sensor, which rests at the neckline, is not a diagnostic tool but an indicator. When active, it displays a green LED light. If the helmet suffers a significant impact (top 2 percent of hits) the light blinks red to inform trainers. Following ensuing evaluations, it can be reset, allowing the player to return to action.

“It’s a great step. I think anything that moves forward to help concussions is great for the game of football and particularly for youth football,” said Utah Blaze coach Ron James, who says he experienced “a few” concussions during his playing career.

“I’m all for it. Anything that makes the game safer and promotes players' health, I think is only a positive for the sport. Given the speed it’s played at and the size and strength of players, I would like to see them being taken care of at the utmost level.”

Couldwell agrees.

“This is relatively new technology (and) what we don’t know is the exact threshold of the numbers,” he said. “It depends on the magnitude of the hit, where the player was hit, and which part of the brain is getting the trauma. So, there’s variation and the research is still ongoing to evaluate what the magic thresholds are. But, I think (this) accrued first step, it’s a good one.”

Lesue worries the blatant exposure might encourage players to “hit guys harder” for bragging rights and despite safety measurements, players will be reluctant to announce injuries publicly.

James doesn't agree, however.

“I think once players are educated about it, they’ll be more receptive — only because they know that this is something that is beneficial not only for the longevity of their career but for the way they handle life after football," said James.

Informed of the device, Charlesworth is less apprehensive about allowing his children to buckle their chinstraps.

“Definitely,” he said when asked if the sensor made him more comfortable. “I think that would be a great asset on all levels.”

Football presents hazardous injuries far outreaching concussions. Many argue, however, that it also has the ability to groom youth and build foundations of hard work, camaraderie and overcoming adversity. Couldwell advocates for players and parents alike to not underestimate the severity of concussions. It’s acceptable to play football, but wagering health for a game is not, he says.

“You’ve got one head to last a lifetime,” he said. “You want to really reduce the number of times your head takes a hit. If (you’ve) had a concussion — take it easy. Don’t return to play quickly and make sure you’re 100 percent before you put yourself in a situation where you can injure yourself again.”

Email: tphibbs@desnews.com - Twitter.com/tphibbsDNews

Get The Deseret News Everywhere