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The ImPACT test: A first-hand account

There is no sure-fire way to tell if someone has suffered a concussion. But the ImPACT Test gives doctors a chance to measure a potential victim against a baseline.

Here’s how it works:

Athletes take an online test of approximately 30 minutes to an hour. The program assesses neurocognitive function using a number of small tests.

Later, someone suspected of suffering a concussion can then take the same test and see how the results compare.

I spent 45 minutes one afternoon taking the test at the office of Dr. Darius Greenbacher at the Baystate Medical Practices building across from the hospital on Sanderson Street in Greenfield.

The test begins with background questions, such as whether or not a person has sustained previous head injuries, and if a person has any preexisting symptoms of a concussion.

Then you take the first test, in which words flash on the screen. You memorize them, then, words appear in a list and you must click whether or not the words appeared in the first listing.

Next I moved on to a Design Memory section that works about the same way as the Word Memory did. I had to remember random shapes and then, as shapes appear on the screen, click whether or not they were on the initial shape list.

Next up is the Memory and Speed portion of the test, where a screen shot of Xs and Os appears and three are shaded yellow. Then, the screen will flash either a blue square or red circle and I had to click either the right or left mouse button depending on which colored shape appears. Once the person completes this, the screen shot of Xs and Os reappears and this time I had to click which three were yellow.

The fourth test was perhaps the toughest — it was the Shapes and Number Memorization. The numbers 0-9 appear in a list across the screen and a shape appears above each number. At first, a shape would appear and I had to click the corresponding number. Then, the shapes above the numbers all disappear and I still have to remember which number coincided with each shape.

That was tough, even without a concussion!

The fifth test is the Color and Word Match ... a colored box appears with the word Red, Green or Blue inside. When the box and color word match, you click as quickly as you can. The test winds down with the sixth part called Three Letters, in which the person must memorize three letters, then count down backwards from 25-1 (clicking on coinciding numbers on the screen), and after 18 seconds, recount the three letters that appeared.

Finally, I had to again perform the first two memorization tasks (the Word Memory and Design Memory) and the test ended.

There is a complex formula for determining a person’s score, but basically, if a person has a concussion, the test would be too difficult to take. When a person has a baseline, they can measure against it, helping determine if a person is operating at their normal function.

For the best results, athletes should take the ImPACT test prior to competing, although there are still some benefits from the test even if a person only takes it after a potential concussion.

— By JASON BUTYNSKI

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This is the third of a four-part series on concussions and their impact on youth sports in the area. Jake Elwell remembers the hit he took while skating out of the defensive zone during his freshmen season. He doesn’t remember much immediately after that. The Greenfield High School senior hockey player suffered a concussion as a result of the hit. … 0

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