— West Point Public Schools Athletic Director Andrew Layne knows that concussions don't discriminate.
Concussions don't only happen in sports. They can happen during everyday routines, even if the trips and falls seem minor at the time, Layne said.
To make sure all West Point students recover fully from a concussion, all seventh, ninth and 11th-graders are taking tests to measure their baseline fine motor skills and short-term memory. The practice will take place again next year with students entering those same grades.
The goal is to ensure West Point's upper-grade students return to the fields and classrooms symptom-free after getting a concussion, Layne said.
"Having these baseline tests tells us what we need to do to get this person healthier," Layne said of the tests, which are being done throughout September.
After a fall or an accident, a student or athlete will be examined by a health care professional at a hospital or doctor's office, who will determine if they have a concussion.
If a head injury is diagnosed, the student will take the cognition test a second time and compare the post-concussion test results to the first baseline test results. If the results are the same and there are no lingering concussion symptoms from the injury, the student may return to class and sports full-time.
The school division purchased 300 pre-concussion baseline tests, the results of which are good for two years, and 60 post-injury tests for a total of $600 from ImPACT Applications, Inc., Layne said.
Across the country, schools and athletic associations are trying to improve the way concussions are treated. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of emergency room visits for concussions in kids ages 8-13 years old has doubled, and concussions have risen 200 percent among teens ages 14-19 in the last decade.
While some high schools and colleges are buying football helmets with impact sensors and other gear to detect concussions quicker, West Point has chosen to use the ImPACT cognition tests to detect and treat concussions.
"The problem is that some doctors are old school and will tell the student they can return to regular activities one week after getting a concussion," Layne said. "But we have a protocol we have to follow, beyond just waiting a certain amount of time. They have to be symptom-free before returning to play."
This is the first year that West Point has done pre-concussion testing on non-athletes, Layne said. Last year was also the first year the schools gave athletes the test.
West Point Director of Innovation and Technology David Daniel said all-inclusive concussion testing this year was suggested by the School Board. The suggestion was sparked by School Board Chair Dudley Olsson's personal experience with a child getting a concussion from a non-athletic event, he said.
Both the West Point School Board and the Virginia High School League have specific protocol to follow when a student gets a concussion. Students must be evaluated by a healthcare professional on the day of the concussion, then get medical clearance before returning to play. If concussion symptoms return, the student then follows a "step-wise protocol with provisions for delayed (return to play)," according to the Virginia High School League website.
The protocol doesn't just cover a student's return to sports, however. The protocol has two aspects: return to play and return to learn. Students must also meet criteria before returning to the classroom.
"We felt there was an obligation to honor both aspects equally when returning from a concussion," Daniel said. "The natural outgrowth of this obligation is to cover more than the participants in scholastic sports due to the potential impact concussions have on their learning. The Board felt it was an appropriate service to extend to our community."
A student's return to learning is tailored to their injury and symptoms, Daniel said. The child may get medically excused absences, participate in part-day programs or have modified assignments.
"It really depends on the progression of healing from the concussion," Daniel said. "Administrators and the athletic director work with teachers and students to make sure they're not being overtaxed. We put students on a plan to get assignments and content made up once they've recovered."
Fearing can be reached by phone at 757-298-5838.
•3,800,000 concussions reported in 2012, double what was reported in 2002
•33 percent of all sports concussions happen at practice
•39 percent: the amount by which cumulative concussions are shown to increase catastrophic head injury leading to permanent neurologic disability
•47 percent of all reported sports concussions occur during high school football
•One in five high school athletes will sustain a sports concussion during the season
•33 percent of high school athletes who have a sports concussion report two or more in the same year
•Four to five million concussions occur annually, with rising numbers among middle school athletes
•90 percent of most diagnosed concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness
•An estimated 5.3 million Americans live with a traumatic brain injury-related disability (CDC)
Statistics from Head Case Company