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You can’t ‘fail’ a neurocognitive function test, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

September 23, 2018
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Photos: Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review Burrell High School student athletes take the baseline concussion test.

Testing for your neurocognitive function is as simple as logging onto a website.

I wish I had known that before I was asked to participate in such testing at Burrell High School earlier this month.

I even packed a change of clothes -- gym slacks, a T-shirt and sneakers -- in case I needed to run or do anything remotelyathletic once I got there. Embarrassing.

I met up with athletic director Drake D’Angelo shortly after I arrived and asked some questions about the testing, known asImPACT, before I took it. I generally don’t cover sports, so I was curious to know what it entailed.

D’Angelo said it determines your neurocognitive baseline, or, in simple terms, what your brain is like when it is healthy.

If you’re diagnosed with a concussion, you are tested again. The pre- and post-tests then are compared, and the resultsdetermine whether your brain has recovered enough to return to sports. It doesn’t test for a concussion.

The test, in all, takes about 30 minutes. All seventh- to 12th-grade student athletes at Burrell are required to take it.They’re tested every two years.

Burrell athletic trainer Jordain Pomycala administered my test. She has been doing it for at least six years, and said the testhas been updated since she first started working with it.

While the testing itself has pretty much stayed the same, the questions have become more diligent, she said. Some newerquestions include whether you were distracted or the test froze up on you, which can delay your response and affect yourperformance.

“When we first started to do it, it was basically just your information, your grade, what position you played,” she said. “Nowthey add, ‘Are you on medication for ADD?’; ‘Do you have autism?’; ‘Do you have a learning disability?’ It’s more in-depth.”

The test is made up of activities meant to test your word and design memory.

It was a lot harder than I expected it to be, and I have a master’s degree.

Some of the more memorable sections included memorizing squiggly line designs and then confirming whether the samedesign appeared later, and doing the same thing with words.

I especially enjoyed a matching exercise that consisted of two parts. The first was memorizing three letters in a certainorder. The second was counting backward from 25 to 1.

For the numbers portion, you would click the numbers, which were arranged in random order on the screen, and try to beatthe clock.

Immediately following that, you were asked to recall the letters in the same order from the first part of the exercise.

I did best at word memory (I am a journalist, after all), getting 88 percent of the questions correct.

I didn’t do so hot with design memory. I got only half the questions right.

Pomycala said there is no pass or fail with the test, though. It is just used to determine someone’s baseline.

D’Angelo said the tests are beneficial because the results don’t lie.

The brain is more susceptible to injury after it is concussed, and, if an athlete returns to play before having fully recovered,it can be detrimental to his or her health, he said.

“A doctor just talking to a child can’t necessarily know if they’ve recovered completely,” he said. “If they’re not sharingeverything, this can help.”

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