The INI hopes to make a significant contribution to what’s known about concussion baseline testing.

Sports and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly, but once in a while, things get sticky. Let’s say a 12-year-old boy suffered a concussion playing football. Eight months later, he still has headaches and blurred vision. His parents wonder if he should play football this year. Any parent with a child who loves to play sports knows this is not an easy decision. They take him to the Illinois Neurological Institute (INI) Concussion Center to find out.

Baseline Testing
As the only concussion center of its kind in central Illinois, the team is passionate about preventing, assessing and providing the best recovery treatment plan for a concussion. Through proposed research, the INI hopes to make a significant contribution to what’s known about concussion baseline testing—a tool to help licensed healthcare providers guide athletes back to sports and school.

Baseline tests are performed prior to the athletic season to provide a pre-concussion score for the athlete. This information allows the providers and the athletes to know what “normal” is for them before the season starts. Then, if the athlete has a concussion during play, the healthcare provider can compare the baseline testing with post-concussion results. This will help aid in their decision making for a safe return to learning and sports. Would a concussion baseline test for our young athlete have made treatment—and the decision whether or not to return to play—clearer? The INI is studying that very question.

Thanks to a donation from CEFCU, the INI Concussion Center team will partner with OSF HealthCare, Children’s Hospital of Illinois, OSF IPMR, Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and Hopedale Wellness Center during the month of August to perform concussion baseline tests on more than 3,200 players on 32 central Illinois Junior Football League (JFL) teams. The baseline testing includes a symptom checklist, cognitive exam, balance exam and concussion education for athletes and parents. Following the testing, the results will be made available to the athlete’s pediatrician or primary care provider.

Protecting Young Athletes
The young brain grows and develops until age 25. Children are therefore very vulnerable, requiring careful attention when concussions occur. Coaches and parents should take extra care to ensure an athlete who has a concussion is fully recovered and has a medical provider’s approval before returning to school and sports. Unfortunately, the youth population is generally underserved in concussion prevention and treatment. Few youth leagues have an athletic trainer available, so players may return to play much sooner after a concussion than high school and collegiate athletes. That’s why this program is so important.

Not only do kids receive too little concussion prevention and treatment, but children under age 14 are also underrepresented in many concussion research studies. The INI wants to change that. In addition to helping protect young athletes through athlete evaluations, plus education and awareness for the community, they aim to close that research gap. By providing concussion baseline testing for young athletes, INI is able to serve the community while providing valuable insight into the usefulness of concussion baseline tools. This can help athletes and non-athletes alike all over the world—as the assessment tool is improved and validated, licensed healthcare providers can confidently use the results to improve concussion evaluation and recovery. Thanks to its advanced neurological expertise, the Illinois Neurological Institute and OSF HealthCare are uniquely positioned to lead the charge in changing how concussions are diagnosed and treated.

Will our young athlete return to play this season? Possibly. But thanks to this innovative program, the decision will now be much clearer for the families of thousands of central Illinois athletes. iBi

For more information about concussion and baseline testing, visit ini.org/concussion.