Tablet app that measures neurological function could help monitor concussions

A computer tablet application developed by Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center successfully demonstrated in a clinical trial the ability to rapidly and quantitatively assess neuromuscular performance, reports an announcement from Harvard.

Current methods used to assess a patient's neuromuscular function include subjective and qualitative descriptions of their reflexes and cognitive status, while the new tablet-based neuroassessment app provides a quantitative and objective score.

"This new tool may hold great potential to augment existing protocols in a doctor's neuromotor assessment toolbox," said Wyss's Leia Stirling, who led the study, in the announcement. "It is portable, repeatable, quick to administer, and easy to perform."

Visuomotor abnormalities are common in aging and age-related disease, yet difficult to quantify, according to an abstract of the trial published in the Journals of Gerontology. In the NeuroAssess trial, 150 healthy participants between the ages of 21 and 95 used a stylus to follow a moving target around a circle on a tablet screen for which they received a neuromuscular score based on their tracing performance. Algorithms were used to measure deviations from the circular path, which the researchers then analyzed as a function of age, sex, and handedness. 

"Now that the baseline data have been collected from the healthy population of study subjects, the next goal is to determine NeuroAssess' potential to become a quantitative assessment tool for groups of people with neuromuscular pathologies, such as those who suffered concussions or have multiple sclerosis," states the announcement.

Building on the success of its first clinical trial, the app is currently being evaluated in a study with athletes in the Boston area to determine the efficacy of the technology in helping to diagnose concussions.

In related news, an iPhone app developed at the University of Michigan enables athletes with concussions to track their injuries, symptoms, activities, and then to share that information via e-mail with physicians, coaches and trainers. Described as the "first of its kind" app by the university, Return2Play is designed to help treat sports-related concussions by tracking the important details of recovery, resulting in better injury management.

For more:
- read the Harvard article
- read the trial abstract