Are you hearing things? New audio test may provide objective test for concussions

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There’s been increased coverage about the dangers of concussions over the past several years, but diagnosing them is not always a straightforward proposition. New research coming out of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory may hold the answer, however — with the creation of a sound test that could take the controversy out of recognizing a concussion.

Published in the journal Nature, Scientific Reports, the study involved placing three sensors on the heads of child participants to measure the brain’s automatic electric reaction to sound.

By looking at the subjects’ brain activity as they received auditory stimuli, the researchers were able to note a unique pattern in the response of those who had suffered concussions, compared to those who had not.

Children who had suffered concussions had, on average, a 35 percent smaller neural response to the pitch. As they recovered from the brain trauma, their ability to process pitch correctly returned to normal levels.

The ambition of the work is to produce a reliable, objective, portable, and — most importantly of all — accessible platform for diagnosing concussion. As lead author Professor Nina Kraus told Digital Trends, it is significant because “there have been no non-invasive biological measures” for concussion previously.

“With this new biomarker, we are measuring the brain’s default state for processing sound and how that has changed as a result of a head injury,” she said in a statement. “This is something patients cannot misreport; you cannot fake it or will your brain to perform better or worse.”

It remains intriguing research for now, but it’s not hard to imagine this being deployed as a readily available detection tool for possible concussions in the near future. And while the current research is focused on younger concussion victims, it will also be interesting to see whether similar response patterns to sound carry over to adults.

So what’s next? “Longitudinally following athletes immediately following concussion,” Professor Kraus told us. “If additional research pans out and confirms this is a viable approach then we would look at ways to package this as a user-friendly device.”

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