Changing the Science of Concussion

Connecticut athletes will trial new head sensors

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The New Haven Chargers in practice
Photo:Harriet Jones
Members of the UNH soccer team are shown how to wear the head sensors
Photo:Harriet Jones
The sensors send signals to a laptop on the sidelines
Photo:Harriet Jones
Changing the Science of Concussion
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Changing the Science of Concussion

Concussion is one of the most controversial words in sport right now, from peewee leagues to the NFL. There's mounting evidence that head injuries pose a serious threat to players, but so far, there's not a lot of real time data about what kind of impacts are involved. Now a new device, developed in Connecticut, aims to change that. WNPR's Harriet Jones reports.

The University of New Haven Chargers take to the field for a practice scrimmage. Inside linebacker Matt Fallico says he tries not to think about what happens to his head during games.

"Honestly I feel if you go in worrying about it, that's when injuries happen. So I feel you should really not think about it."

But this practice -- the first of a new season -- is different. Fallico and all of his fellow Chargers are wearing a new sensor inside their helmets, technology developed by Connecticut entrepreneur Dale Hollingsworth.

"And it's only about six millimeters thick, it's very tiny and it slips into a small little string band, a head band, or it slips into a skull cap that you see football players wearing today. And it sits just in the back of your head -- you don't even know you're wearing it, and yet it's communicating all the time."

Communicating via a small antenna to the coach on the sidelines, who gets a real time readout on a laptop or iPad of the exact force of any head impact that each player receives at any time in a game or practice. Hollingsworth's son, Chad, demonstrates using a sensor mounted on a styrofoam model.

"The green circle means that the device is communication. When you activate the system, you'll see if you hit the sensor, it comes on in real time, shows me how hard the impact was, which player got the impact..."

The Hollingsworths are behind Triax Technology, a Norwalk based company that's now trialling the sensor system at the University of New Haven and several other schools around the nation. Dale Hollingsworth says collecting data on head impacts should have an immediate effect on coaching.

"Let's give the coaches the opportunity to teach to the data. So if you give a drill, like in soccer you do a heading drill, and you see two or three players that have a higher G force range, you can quickly ascertain and say we need to help them improve their technique."

For the minute the system has been developed for organized sports teams, who pay $99 per athlete for a sensor with a unique ID that can track that player's history of head impacts. Hollingsworth says he's also about to launch an individual application for younger athletes.

"Parents have been asking us, can I get this for my child, I want to keep track. All of a sudden they'll be more educated. When your child comes home and they've got a headache and they don't feel good, or their nauseous, you can go and check your data to see how many times they may have hit their head that particular day, and at the same time you have information that the physician or the doctor really would like to have."

Physicians like Stephanie Arlis Mayor who monitors concussion issues for the UNH teams. She says collecting this kind of information could have long term implications for the science of concussion.

"From a research perspective, to see whether there's a certain level of G's that a patient can have, whether there's a cumulative level of G forces that a person can have and how it impacts their cognitive function. So it's got amazing potential for the future."

UNH's football team and both its men's and women's soccer teams will trial the sensors this season, wearing them for every practice and game. Athletic Director Deborah Chin brought Triax into the school after being approached by the company -- she says the technology couldn't be more timely.

"If you read anything about concussions, what's happening at the NFL, within the NCA, we're all doing research to find the answers."

Back on the field, linebacker Matt Fallico says he's still trying not to think about the possibility of injury, but he is glad someone's monitoring what's happening to his head.

"If there was an injury you can go and look back and see if it was a specific play or a series of plays, so I think it's definitely good. Anything to benefit player safety I feel like is definitely going in the right direction."

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.