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App Simulates Concussion Issue for Football Players

Print Article Contributed by FSM Staff

TUCSON, AZ -- Despite new concussion-management protocols in the NCAA and NFL, many student-athletes still don't recognize concussion symptoms or won't report them if they do, say the developers of a new app that “allows users to experience the symptoms of concussion.”

Ricardo Valerdi, associate professor of systems engineering at the University of Arizona, was joined by Hirsch Handmaker and Jonathan Lifshitz at the UA College of Medicine–Phoenix in developing the app for the NCAA's Mind Matters Challenge, part of a $30 million joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Defense to educate student-athletes and soldiers on concussion.

As one of four finalists in the Mind Matters Challenge, the BrainGainz team will present its prototype to NCAA officials in Indianapolis on Friday. If the app is selected as the winner, it will be made available to some 400,000 NCAA student-athletes across the country.

The BrainGainz prototype is compatible with iPhone and Android and uses Google Cardboard, a foldout virtual-reality headset with a $10 price tag.

With smartphones slipped inside of a cardboard headset, users of BrainGainz find themselves standing on the field in Arizona Stadium, a likeness of which was carefully captured by strapping cameras on a drone and taking aerial shots.

Users first practice punt returns with a virtual teammate. Their response time and vision are normal. Later, after being "tackled" by Arizona linebackers Jason Sweet and Scooby Wright, users have a choice to make: Recover or get back in the game.

Sweet, a molecular and cellular biology major, and Wright, who recently announced he will enter this year's NFL Draft, have collaborated on the app since its inception.

Sweet said athletes instinctively "want to compete and stay in the game." To change that, he said, the app must not only be educational — it has to be cool.

The stakes are high. A stay-in-the-game mentality "results in underreporting of head blows, which can lead to serious short- and long-term consequences from a second concussion — known as secondary impact syndrome, or SIS — before the brain has been allowed to heal," Handmaker said.

Said Valerdi: "A concussion can change your life, and this is a public health issue. We need to better inform athletes, coaches, trainers and parents how to identify a concussion."

For more, email Valerdi at rvalerdi@email.arizona.edu.


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