Virtual Reality Makes It Easier to Detect Concussions
The NFL only recently acknowledged that repeated concussions suffered on the football field is linked to the degenerative condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. This admission has put concussions and brain trauma back into the headlines. However, traumatic brain injury and concussions are not new in the news.
It has been a long standing problem and treating concussions is one thing, diagnosing it is another thing. Diagnosis is very difficult and you can’t treat what you can’t diagnose says neurosurgeon, Jam Ghajar who is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford and he is also the founder of the Brain Trauma Foundation.
Most brain injuries are to the front of the brain and this is where cognitive and executive functions are located. And this is affected in the event of a concussion but it is very difficult to pick up on typical diagnostic tests like an MRI or CT scan
Ghajar said, “A lot of times after a car accident someone will get a CT scan and if it doesn’t show any bleeding, they let them go.” But this is not always the case, some of the people who are let go actually have concussions although it is not immediately apparent. This has happened to athletes, military men and patients in general. “We are sending people out with impaired attention, to drive cars, play sports, or back to active duty” says Ghajar.
On the other hand, wrong diagnosis of concussions are also being made. Ghajar said, “If someone comes in with a headache and a head injury, they will generally call that concussion. But a head ache is not a brain ache.”
Diagnosing concussion is thus very difficult and it has become a purely intuitive process for physicians. According to Ghajar, when you get right down to it, “There is no accepted diagnostic criteria for concussion. It’s an intuitive physical diagnosis and when you get right down to it, we don’t really know what concussion is.”
These challenges spurred Dr Ghajar to invent the EYE-SYNC, which is a device that employs virtual reality to assess abnormal eye movements, which is a very good precursor or indicator of a concussion.
The device works by checking if the anticipation ability of the eye is impaired, if you were watching a dot moving around from point to point, your eyes can anticipate where the dot will be next. This anticipation can see up to 2.5 seconds into the future, says Ghajar.
When there is a concussion however, that ability to anticipate is impaired and the EYE-SYNC can pick up on this. The EYE-SYNC is basically a pair of virtual reality goggles with eye tracks built in them and they can be used anywhere as they are very portable. When the user puts it on and after a 30-second eye tracking test, you can determine whether or not there is a concussion involved.
The EYE-SYNC got FDA approval in February and the market is huge. States now have legislation backing school athletics and protocols to be followed when a child is suspected of having a concussion. So the market for this device is basically everyone but more specifically team doctors, hospitals and the military.
Hundreds have been sold and deployed in the two months that it has been available says Ghajar and the company is in contact with schools and players associations as well as clinics. The EYE-SYNC is still very expensive though, but when eye tracking in virtual reality fully takes off and software companies start putting trackers in their hardware, the price will plummet.