Next Frontier

June 1, 2017

For many, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset system is a fun way to play video games or watch movies. But a recent development shows the headset may also help improve speed and accuracy of concussion testing. The idea was developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham and University of East Anglia, both in the U.K., and it's currently being tested out with soccer players.

“You have players who say, ‘No, I’m fine, I want to go on,’ but they do this test or one like it—and I think those questions go away,” Michael Grey, PhD, a Reader in Rehabilitation Neuroscience in the School of Health Sciences at the University of East Anglia, told BBC News.

In the virtual reality test, individuals identify the font color of a word while tilting their head. As an example, the text may say “Yellow” but be written in green letters. If the player has trouble with this, his or her balance and vision aren’t lined up, which may indicate a concussion. This test allows for a quick assessment of this type of functioning.

“With our virtual reality balance test, we have the brain do one thing, and then we challenge it by tilting the room,” said Dr. Grey. “It’s only by doing this that we can see subtle changes that might not show up in a standard neurocognitive test.”

The virtual reality test could work in conjunction with clinical tests given as a baseline. As such, it could allow medical professionals on the sideline to act quickly on the sidelines to help protect players.

“I think we are looking for a functional test that will allow us to make a quick decision, and technology such as [the Oculus Rift system] could potentially be very helpful,” Dr. Mark Gillett, Director of Performance for West Bromwich Albion, an English football club, said in an article reported by SportTechie.

Overall, the goal for the Oculus Rift test—like many concussion assessments—is to keep players safe.

 “The challenge is when we allow players to get back out onto the pitch after sustaining a concussion,” Dr. Grey told BBC News. “Because the next one—the same blow—may cause a more serious injury.” 

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