Researchers have tried many ways to diagnose concussions in the past few years. Some look at balance, some use cognitive tests and some do eye exams, among other methods.
However, MIT Technology Review reported there might be a first at the University of Notre Dame -- an app that scans football players for concussions by voice analysis.
After identifying concussions in collegiate boxers in a preliminary study, University of Notre Dame researchers will soon test the app on approximately 1,000 youth and high school football players. The program pulls out the vowel segment from a set of predetermined words and then analyzes that sound for changes that may indicate a brain injury.
The Review said the Notre Dame researchers were looking for a test that would not be fooled by a player's answers while taking a sideline concussion test, according to graduate student Nikhil Yadav. Many trainers rely on baseline testing and apps that compare the athlete's answers before the season with his replies after a concussive hit.
Previous studies have found that head injuries change speech characteristics, with negative effects on vowel production in particular. The researchers initially tested the app with 125 boxers participating in a collegiate competition. Before any bouts started, the researchers recorded each boxer saying the numbers one through nine as a baseline. After boxing, the researchers recorded the athletes saying the same words again. By analyzing several acoustic features of the vowel sounds, including their pitch, the app was able to identify all nine players who were later diagnosed with concussion.
"The preliminary results were very promising," Yadav says. The test wasn't perfect, however; it also falsely identified concussions in three boxers. "That's low in this early stage, but we don't want to see false positives," says Yadav. He hopes to fine-tune the test to minimize them.
Now, Yadav and colleagues are kicking off a large test of the system with youth and high school football players. They will work with around 1,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 18 in 20 different schools and clubs in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Any predicted concussions will be compared to medical diagnoses.
-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor