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Athletes and parents complete the online portion of their baseline testing, Wednesday in a human kinetics classroom.Athletes and parents complete the online portion of their baseline testing, Wednesday in a human kinetics classroom.

UWindsor concussion centre partners with girls’ hockey association

The UWindsor Sport-Related Concussion Centre has teamed up with the Sun Parlour Female Hockey Association to offer baseline testing for girls in its travel league and follow-up evaluations if a concussion occurs or is suspected.

About 100 girls, ranging in age from 11 to 16 years old, are eligible for the testing conducted in the Human Kinetics Building. The first group came through Wednesday, October 5. The week before, coaches and trainers were given an educational workshop on concussion and its management.

“There are several components to the baseline assessment,” says psychology professor Joe Casey. “The players provide us with some basic background information, such as their height, weight, age, gender, and the position of the sport they play, to name a few. They then complete a questionnaire that comprises a list of symptoms commonly associated with concussion. This tells us the extent to which they are experiencing these symptoms prior to injury, such as headaches, fatigue, and difficulty with concentration. Some of the players, especially the younger ones, receive assistance from a parent to complete this section.

“This is followed by a computerized test that measures several cognitive abilities that are often disrupted by a concussion. The final portion of the assessment is a balance test — players are asked to stand on a force plate that measures their natural sway.”

If a player is suspected of a concussion, her parent contacts the concussion centre for a post-injury evaluation, which includes an interview focusing on the injury and a repeat of the assessment procedures completed at baseline.

“The baseline data tells us where any given individual should be without concussion,” Dr. Casey says. “For example, we can test someone who has suffered a blow to the head and find them within the normal range when compared to their age group, but if we know that they previously tested above average, then there might be a problem.”

The Sport-Related Concussion Centre was launched in 2013 to provide programmatic baseline assessments and post-injury follow-up to Lancer varsity athletes. With special interests in pediatric neuropsychology, it was Casey’s intention at the time to extend its work to the community. It was the initiative of the Sun Parlour Association that jump-started this second launch.

The concussion centre is a collaborative effort among Casey, his psychology department colleague Chris Abeare — both of whom are certified clinical neuropsychologists — kinesiology professor Nadia Azar who brings expertise in objective balance testing, and several graduate students who gain practicum experience in clinical neuropsychology. From the beginning, the work with the Lancers has also included athletic therapist Dave Stoute.

Extending its operations to a group of children and youth will bring expertise to an underserved population, says Casey.

“We don’t know nearly enough about the assessment, management, and long term outcome pediatric concussion. This is going to give us the opportunity to study this on a large scale,” he says. “This isn’t a matter of just offering a clinical service, but of promoting a research culture in the community.”

That tie to research was part of the attraction for Chaderique Menard, the organization’s vice-president for travel programs.

“I told the parents that by participating, they would be contributing to the overall good,” he says. “There’s a lack of research being done for the younger kids, and more research is the only way to correct the problem of concussions in sport.”

Menard says this trial run, involving six teams with 17 players each, may well expand next season to include his organization’s hundreds of house league players. He calls the program a huge benefit to the athletes, their parents, and volunteer officials.

“This takes the medical responsibility off the coaches and trainers and puts it in the hands of health professionals,” he says.

For his part, Casey says he is excited to work with a local organization in a partnership that includes research, but he isn’t new to community engagement. In 2013, he received the Canadian Psychological Association’s national Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public or Community Service in recognition of his years of community work.