Wii Seen as Cheap Alternative for Assessing Concussions

Citing its affordability and simplicity, researchers from Maryland and Ohio State University are trying out Nintendo’s Wii as a means to evaluate the severity and lingering effects of concussions.

A Washington Post article on the subject indicates that taking tabs on an athlete’s balance is one way to measure recovery from a blow to the head, but researchers are split on the effectiveness of using the videogame device.

Experts at Maryland have athletes get on board a Wii Fit and attempt to mimic three different yoga poses, once with their eyes open and once with them closed. They also play a weight-shifting game and, eventually, all data recovered from the activities is tabulated and stored. If a player receives a concussion, the thought is that team doctors would now posses “a frame of reference to measure how far an athlete’s ability to function is from its starting point.”

Once athletes met their pre-concussion scores, in theory, they could return to the field.

Micky Collins is Assistant Director of the Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and is not totally sold on the simplicity of the previously described acumen, saying, “What I’m afraid of is that that’s leading to sort of this potentially dangerous, really limited scope in terms of how you evaluate this and trying to come up with easy tools and sort of one-size-fits-all recommendations that can end up being very dangerous."

A researcher at the Ohio State Sports Concussion Program called the Wii-centered program’s reliability “pretty decent,” but said that, in a perfect world, it would be much higher.

Other schools use more rugged force plates to conduct balance tests, but those items typically cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

In an April, 2010 memo (PDF) to NCAA trainers, Wii Fit Concussion Balance Testing was one of several possibilities recommended as a baseline assessment tool by Debra Runkle, Chair of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.

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