Cognitive skills key in concussion recovery

SPRINGFIELD — Diagnosing concussions is no easy task.

Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth of the Des Plaines-based Midwest Center for Concussion Care said physical signals such as headaches and blurry vision are just one aspect of concussion symptoms. Pieroth said symptoms range from physical to behavioral to cognitive.

Headaches, lack of balance, irritability and drowsiness are all common signs.

However, the most overlooked sign, she said, is slow reaction time.

Pieroth, who also is the concussion expert for the Chicago Bears and Blackhawks, specializes in impact testing, which examines reaction time.

Tests can include simple tasks such as identifying colors or putting a peg in a hole, but the timing aspect helps determine if an athlete is game-ready.

“People can legitimately feel good ... but still have underlying problems from the injury,” she said. “Athletes need to be quick to the ball or to the puck, and if they can't react quickly they are going to get hurt.”

So, Pieroth said, a parent of a student-athlete who may have suffered a concussion should consult a doctor before the student is allowed to play sports again.

Tom Loew, an athletic trainer at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, said parents should use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Heads Up program as a reference. It can be accessed at:

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