Current methods for diagnosing and evaluating concussion severity are not very accurate. However, a new digital device measures blink reflex data to more quickly and objectively identify concussions.

Developed at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) with the support of the Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences (ZIAN), the Blink Reflexometer triggers, records and analyzes detailed information about a person’s blink reflex.

The noninvasive device—which is patent pending and currently available for investigational use only—is meant to serve as a field-side diagnostic tool to help athletic trainers and medical staff determine the concussive status of athletes who have experienced head traumas.

According to Mark Semler, CEO of ZIAN at MUSC in Charleston, S.C., current methods to assess concussion—including balance, neurocognitive and self-report assessments—provide conflicting validity and reliability. However, he contends that the Blink Reflexometer fills an urgent need for more objective measures of concussion severity and outcomes.

“This device can’t be cheated,” says Semler, who claims that because blink parameter assessment provides an objective measure of a primitive reflex athletes cannot manipulate it. “It’s physiologically impossible to cheat.”

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“A human’s blink reflex has a long pathway—originating at the facial area and continuing to the brain stem. If any place along that pathway is damaged, changes in the blink reflex can indicate that there is a potential problem,” said Lt. Colonel Dena Garner, professor of health, exercise and sport science at The Citadel.

Results of a study involving 24 Division I football players from The Citadel were published recently in the journal of Cogent Engineering, and results suggested that use of the Blink Reflexometer “provides quantifiable and objective outcomes to complement the concussion assessment protocol for athletes.”

In the study, baseline values were established in the pre-season for 10 blink reflex parameters, athletic history, physical examination, balance parameters and neurocognitive test scores. Then, when a concussion or suspected concussion occurred during the season, football players were re-tested within one to 48 hours after the event to collect post-event blink reflex measurements and standard concussion evaluation protocol results.

“We now know that concussions and normal play both affect the blink parameters, but in differing directions,” said Garner, lead author of the study. “Our observations identified something distinctly different occurring in the concussion brains that can serve as a valuable new indicator for diagnosing the condition.”

Compared with their baseline values, the head impact group of athletes had decreased blink latency, increased differential latency and larger lid excursions post-impact, while the control group had increased blink latency, smaller lid excursions and decreased log of number of oscillations after activity.

Semler says the goal is to get clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for the device and to try and get it to market this year. Ultimately, he believes that the Blink Reflexometer could be used to assess a broad range of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

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