Virtual Reality headset being used to spot concussion in footballers
As evidence mounts of a link between playing football, suffering concussion and long term, serious brain conditions, there is an increasing need during football matches, for medics to be able to make a diagnosis of concussion on the sidelines, and to take informed decisions about whether a player needs to come off the pitch.
Research being undertaken jointly by the University of Birmingham and the University of East Anglia is looking at how technology can play a role in making these quick pitch-side decisions. In their study they are using the sensors of the virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, to assess how well a player can balance whilst looking at a virtual reality landscape and simultaneously trying to follow instructions.
Dr Michael Grey, who works on the trial, told the BBC: "With our virtual reality balance test we're having the brain do one thing and then challenge it by tilting the room and it's only by doing this we see subtle changes that might not show up in a standard neurocognitive test. You will have players who say: 'No I'm fine, I want to go on'. But you do this test - or one like it - I think those questions go away."
The trial has gained the support of West Bromwich Albion Football Club. Former WBA star, Jeff Astle died in 2002, aged 59 as a result of brain trauma caused by years of heading heavy leather footballs. His family have long since worked to raise the profile of his story and to ensure that more is understood about the link between football and brain injury.
The club’s Director of Performance Dr Mark Gillett and ex-player, Andy Gray were interviewed by the BBC. Gillett explained: "I think we're looking for functional tests that allow us to make a quick decision and technology such as that could potentially be very helpful."
Gray added: "What football has no excuse about is embracing modern technology. It has no excuse. It can't say we don't have the money, it's awash with money.
The Football Association has confirmed that guidelines on concussion have recently been issued and further research is being undertaken, jointly funded by the Professional Footballer’s Association, to understand if degenerative brain disease is more prevalent among ex-footballers.
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