If you could conduct a simple, 60-second test to immediately determine whether your athlete suffered a concussion, would you do it?
Hall of Fame cornerback Michael Haynes would without a doubt. That’s why Haynes, the National Football League’s Alumni’s Health & Wellness Committee chairman, advocates the so-called King-Devick Test to everyone he can.
“I’m sure several of the protocols being implemented today would have protected guys from sustaining multiple head injuries during their careers in my day,” Haynes said in an interview. “The NFL is doing their due diligence and reviewing the King-Devick Test but I think that it’s likely that they will eventually use it in combination with other tests because studies will continue to be published regarding its accuracy and reliability.”
Concussions are Haynes No. 1 issue these days. He has delivered and received his share of brain-rattling hits during his 14-year NFL career with the Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders. He is now one of about 20 current and former players who will donate their brains to the Boston University School of Medicine for its research on head trauma and brain damage in athletes.
But concussions and resulting injuries may be reduced thanks to the King-Devick Test. Many like Haynes believe the test should become a standard procedure employed across all sports at all levels. The test is a rapid sideline screening test for concussions that can be administered by parents, coaches, trainers, medical professionals and others.
It has proven to be an accurate and reliable method at a time when mounting research shows a link between concussions and brain damage and a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can cause symptoms such as chronic headaches, fatigue, sleep difficulties, sensitivity to light and noise, dizziness and short-term memory loss.
Here’s how the test works: You display a series of numbers on three flash cards to the athlete and record the time it takes them to read them out loud. By comparing results post injury to the athlete’s baseline test taken when healthy, concussions can be confidently diagnosed if their response is more than five seconds slower. The test also checks for impairments of eye movement, attention, language and other symptoms of impaired brain function.
For more than 25 years, the King-Devick Test has been used as a tool in eye care and psychologists’ office in relation to saccadic eye movements and their relationship to reading. It has also been part of many states’ vision screening battery.
Up until now, tests for concussions have often been inconclusive but the King-Devick Test proved effective in a study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and published in the journal Neurology on April 26. The study examined 39 boxers and Mixed Martial Arts fighters and found post-fight test times on average for those who suffered head trauma worsened by 11.1 seconds, while those who had lost consciousness were on average 18 seconds slower. Those who did not suffer any head trauma actually improved their times by more than a second on average.
“This rapid screening test provides an effective way to detect early signs of concussion, which can improve outcomes and hopefully prevent repetitive concussions,” said Laura Balcer, the study’s senior researcher, in a news release.
An easy screening, such as the King-Devick Test, is needed. It’s estimated that every season, one in five U.S. athletes in a contact sport suffers a concussion and more than 3.5 million sports-and-related concussions occur each year in the United States.
Statistics from the Center for Disease Control show that the chance of a 30-49 year old man receiving a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s or another memory related disease is 1 in 1,000 and dramatically increases to 1 in 53 for an NFL retiree who is the same age.
Haynes has high hopes the simple King-Devick Test will help to solve the complex problem of concussions in athletes.
“The King-Devick Test provides doctors, athletic trainers, coaches, and even parents, with an easy tool to determine if the athlete should be removed from play to prevent a second head injury, which we now know can have more serious complications if the brain has not yet healed from the first concussion,” Haynes said.
Read more of the Haynes interview with The Sport Update here.