A lasting ImPACT: A look into concussion protocols on campus

Thomas DeRoche, Medical Correspondent

Concussions protocols at Saint Anselm College may have some cracks in them, according to college health officials. Club sports may not be able to host home games if there is no EMT or athletic trainer coverage.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that results in some form of impaired brain function. Brain trauma affects everyone differently. Some people can repeatedly get hit in the head and have no impairment, while others can get hit once and be out for the rest of the season. For this reason, club sports at Saint Anselm College follow a tiered approach for safety requirements. All students involved in a club sport are required to complete a baseline ImPACT test. 

This test is completed before the first practice and tests an individual’s visual and verbal memory, reaction time, and processing speed. If an individual had a traumatic event, their deficits on the follow up ImPACT test help clinicians determine where the damage is in the brain. However, some students engage in malingering, or purposely doing poorly on a test, so that there is no difference between their baseline and follow up tests and they can continue playing. Maura Marshall, Director of Health Services, said, “All of our ImPACT tests are reviewed by a neuropsychologist from Dartmouth, Dr. Jonathan Lichtenstein. He is able to decipher if a student is purposely doing poorly on a baseline test or has a disability that may interfere with the performance.”

The tier system ranks club sports into different categories based on their assigned safety risks. More physical sports like hockey and rugby are ranked higher than less physical sports like ultimate frisbee. While all sports require either an athletic trainer or EMT present at a game, a concussion received during practice may not be reported. The current protocol if a student is diagnosed with a concussion incorporates Academics, the ARC, and referrals to specialists according to Marshall. The student must be cleared by Health Services and follow a step-wise return to play protocol. 

While the tier system is comprehensive, there may be some cracks in its execution. Dr. Arthur Maerlender, Clinical Neuropsychologist, said, “The only ‘crack’ I discussed with Maura was the communication link between the LCP [licensed health care professional] and the coach of the team regarding the status of the player. I have had two players reportedly get concussed and have had very little communication about them – I am not sure if they were diagnosed or not.” He also noted that “there may also be an issue with the return to play protocol. It’s not clear to me if the students are put through the recommended supervised step-wise exertion protocol.” According to Marshall, “Health Services cannot follow the same step-wise return to play protocol with Impact testing as done with varsity sports because there are no athletic trainers assigned to club sports.” This issue stems from the shortage of per diem athletic trainers despite the college raising the pay rate. Similarly, SACEMS has a shortage of members. Unfortunately, if no EMT or athletic trainer is available to cover a game, the team will not be able to play.

Increased communication between the coaches and the health care provider could help ensure that a student with a concussion is properly taken care of and is safely allowed to return to play. Repeated injuries to a concussed brain can cause further injuries and lead to permanent damage, so report any head injuries and symptoms and encourage your teammates to do the same. Stay safe, Hawks!