Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that it will mandate pre-season neurocognitive baseline testing as part of its comprehensive concussion prevention and management program for all of its national series drivers.
“Baseline testing will be performed through the use of an ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test, which is a widely-used neurocognitive assessment tool,” NASCAR stated in their press release. “The result of neurocognitive testing is one factor out of many that doctors use to diagnose and treat concussions. This particular test evaluates an athlete’s verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time.
“By performing this test prior to the start of a season of competition, doctors are given a snapshot of an athlete’s brain function while in a healthy state. Doctors can then use that baseline to compare to post-concussion tests to assist them in both evaluating the effects of any injury and informing their decisions to return an athlete to competition.”
A lot of people believe the announcement comes following an incident last year with the sport’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last year, Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion after a wreck at a tire test at Kansas Speedway in August. It was kept secret at the time. Then once at Talladega following the big wreck, Earnhardt Jr. felt symptoms once again and went to see a doctor. It was then determined he’d suffered a second straight concussion and would have to miss two races.
It was discussed then about measures being taken by the sports sanctioning body and coming into the year ImPACT testing was recommended. Now heading into 2014, it will be mandatory.
Earnhardt Jr. felt the move was a good move by NASCAR as the testing doesn’t only help in diagnosis, but also proper treatment.
“It’s a great tool not only to help diagnosis but really to understand the type of injury and the style of injury that you have and how to treat that particular injury with the information that you get from the baseline test,” he commented. “As much as the baseline test really is just good to do regardless it can really help you in the long run when you are needing that kind of treatment. It’s just valuable information. If you care about your wellbeing and your health and quality of life it’s a smart move to embrace.”
Some drivers have expressed concern in the implication of the test in being falsely diagnosed. However, from his experience last year, Earnhardt says it shouldn’t be a concern.
“I did well on some things, but when I was concussed my grade was dramatically lower, not just a few points,” he said. “It’s not a guess for a doctor when they see an individual that is concussed on the test results. There is no gray area.”