Brain Food: Sports Concussion Research

Jan 30, 2014

With the Super Bowl coming up Sunday, many Americans have football on the brain. But, Northern Arizona University's Dr. Amy Isaki is trying to keep football off the brains of college athletes.

The NAU football team tackles a player from Portland State
Credit Matt Beaty/The Lumberjack

Her research into concussion is aimed at preventing lingering effects of concussions from high-contact sports that could impair a student's ability in the classroom and beyond. Isaki says, "the majority of cases are unidentified because the players don't like to confess that they've had a concussion. So, they'll shake off the head injury and any symptoms, and try and get back into the game."

An Assistant Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Isaki has been studying traumatic brain injury for more than 20 years. At NAU, she works with coaches and others in athletic training and audiology. Her main concern for student athletes is an early form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It can be triggered by sports-related head injuries.

"You can go back to school and think you can multi-task," Isaki says, "but the environment's too noisy, it's too distractible, you can't concentrate, you may have a problem listening to people and recalling information and just attending to what's important. And all of those things, I think, are so important to be successful as a student."

Dr. Isaki's research includes baseline measurements of athletes' normal performance, followed by weeks of testing and therapy should a concussion occur. Student awareness for their own health is also critical. Isaki says, "it is a different culture - that athletic culture of, 'I need to get back in the game, can't let my team down'. But, I hope we can change that a little bit with the awareness of concussions."