NIU Professor Tackles Head Injuries In Sports

Sports

Matt Wilson spends hours pouring over data on his computers. Data he’s accumulating with the help of local athletes.

Wilson is a hearing scientist with the NIU Department of Audiology. He’s putting athletes through a series of tests trying to see what patterns their brains produce pre-concussion and post concussion.

“The tests that we’re running are looking at things like attention and memory,” says Wilson.

There are hundreds of scientists who are trying to figure out why head injuries happen and their severity. Wilson takes a different approach than most of them do.

“I think where I am unique is I’m the one that’s trying to get off the ground on the longitudinal aspect of it,” says Wilson. “So looking at an athlete prior to their injury, then also after their injury as well.”

Wilson seeks out athletes who will submit to his tests before their season begins, then again in mid-season and then once more after their season ends for a more complete picture of what’s happening. 

One test that he puts his athletes through is called a P300 Response Test. It’s involves putting a net-like cap covered with electrodes over the heads of his clients.  Then the client goes into a sound booth for testing.

“What that allows us to do is measure their brain activity while they’re inside the booth,” says Wilson.

Wilson says his tests are all about identifying patterns in the brain activity and changes in those patterns.

“The stuff we’re doing right now is not diagnostic. I can’t look at your results and say I’ve seen this change and it means this. What it is is I know that there’s been a change there.”

Wilson’s research includes taking groups of people who have had concussions and gathering tests on them.

“Then we will collapse them (the test results) together so that we will have an overall snapshot of how somebody with a concussion might perform on the test that we’re running,” says Wilson.

Then he’ll combine the tests results of people who have no history of concussions for a second snapshot.

“Then you make comparisons between those snapshots.”

Through three years of research Wilson has collected only enough data so far to begin to scratch the surface of finding answers. He does know this much….he’s certain that repeated blows to the head even if they aren’t severe enough to cause a full-blown concussion, they will likely cause subtle changes in brain function.

“We found that participating in a single season of football didn’t show any changes in their overall brain function,” says Wilson. “However the longer you participated in the sport there were changes that were happening there.”

Wilson is seeking athletes to test primarily between the ages of 14 and 35 to volunteer. The testing sessions are free. Anyone interested can contact Wilson by email at mwilson@niu.edu or by phone at (815) 753-1483.
 

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