People with a history of concussion are more than twice as likely to develop a neurological disease, according to a new study that collected the largest data set on the syndrome in the UK.
The study, from the team behind a new dementia screening app, Mindset4Dementia, has published its findings showing a significant correlation between concussion and brain disease after the Guardian revealed this week that a group of former professional rugby players are taking legal action against the sport’s governing bodies for negligence by failing to protect them from the long-term brain. Injuries caused by head injuries during your career.
The eight players, which include England Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson along with former Wales international Alix Popham and 10-time international England striker Michael Lipman, are among a group of 11 who have recently been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain that can only be fully diagnosed post-mortem.
The law firm representing the players says it has been in contact with up to 100 retired players from across the union and rugby league who have some degree of neurological disability. The only known cause of CTE is repeat head trauma, but because the diagnosis is so complicated, some experts insist the links between the disease and concussion are still unclear.
In the study, a sample of 3,631 members of the general public who have already used the Mindset4dementia app, 12% reported having previously been diagnosed with a concussion. Among the 88% who had never had a concussion, 6.64% had a neurological condition such as migraines, epilepsy, or dementia. Among the 12% who did have a history of concussion, the number living with a neurological condition more than doubled to 14.68%. When the groups were divided by age, the risk increased even more for people over 40, to 2.67 times more likely. The findings have been reviewed by an independent neurologist and will be submitted for peer review next week.
The team behind the study believe that the app could become a crucial tool to help with early diagnosis of dementia and CTE. They have already approached the Rugby Football Union and the Football Association to collaborate in its development. The RFU has indicated that it is interested in exploring the new technology.
Hamzah Selim, who designed the app, describes it as “a black and white correlation.” Selim, a fourth-year medical student at UCL, developed the technology for the past two years in partnership with a group of doctors and coders. The app condenses a battery of clinical tests for 20 different dementia-related symptoms into a single four-minute test that can be performed on a phone.
While it is not intended to replace an experienced neurologist, it will allow users to assess themselves for the early signs and symptoms of dementia. The team is looking to develop sports-specific versions of the technology that can be used to diagnose concussions on the side of the field, from the amateur level to the professional game.
Selim was inspired to create the technology while using Snapchat at a conference during his undergraduate degree in neuroscience. “They were teaching us how to do a finger tracking test for a concussion, when you asked the patient to follow your finger and I was like, ‘Damn, this is really difficult. And it is very difficult to do unless you are a high-level consultant, because you have to watch out for a blink of the pupil. ‘ He got bored, went to his phone, and started playing on Snapchat. He used it to superimpose a photographic filter of a dog on his own face. “And I saw that Snapchat was doing that using eye-tracking software, and I suddenly thought why can’t we use the same technology to put filters on your face to track the eye movement?
The developers have also added clinical tests to detect signs of depression, anxiety, impulse control, and tremors in the fingers. “In four minutes it gives you an MOT of your own brain,” says Selim. As the app attracts more users, the AI behind it will improve as well. “The general theory is that we are detecting dementia too late. The earlier it is collected, the better the chances of preserving cognitive health. So the ultimate goal is that the technology can become predictive so that we can determine if patients are on a dangerous trajectory and help them implement preventative measures and management plans sooner. “
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