New tool helps with traumatic brain injury diagnosis

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame recently announced that they are working with programmers to develop a tablet-based application to help diagnose whether someone has suffered a traumatic brain injury. The program is called Contect, short for concussion detection test.

Contect works by recording and analyzing the voice of a patient for signs of a possible brain injury. The patient looks at a tablet computer or mobile phone and reads off a series of words flashed on the screen. The program compares the patient's speech with baseline speech patterns - including pronunciation of vowels and consonants - from those who do not have a brain injury. If the program determines that a patient may have a brain injury, he is referred to a physician for further medical testing. The program is not meant to replace traditional medical diagnosis techniques, but rather to supplement them.

The goal of developers was to produce a simple, inexpensive tool to aid in the diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries. The most obvious application of Contect is on the sidelines of athletic events, where it could provide trainers and doctors an opportunity to screen potentially injured players. The program could also have a role in a military context. Traumatic brain injuries emerged as a significant problem among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Contect could provide medics an important tool for diagnosis in the field.

Though they receive a great deal of media attention, accidents in sporting events and battlefield trauma are not the leading causes of traumatic brain injury in the U.S. Indeed, of the nearly 1.7 million people who suffer a TBI each year, the majority suffer injuries in car accidents and falls. A tool like Contect could be of use in emergency medicine, as well, helping paramedics determine whether a person has suffered a brain injury.

No matter the cause, traumatic brain injuries are cause for serious concern in the U.S. Research is mounting that even a minor concussion can affect a person's health for years after the initial injury. Studies have also found that suffering a TBI may increase a person's risk for developing dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions. Although further research is needed to learn more about the effects of brain injuries and possible treatments, tools that make diagnosis easier can potentially play an important role in helping injured patients get the medical care they need.