Elizabeth Larson, North Coast Concussion Program coordinator, and Justus Ortega, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Recreation, are researching ways to better diagnose and protect athletes from the neurological damage of concussions.

By measuring how athletes respond to a battery of cognitive tests prior to their competitive season, the researchers establish a baseline that can be compared to subsequent data if an individual experiences head trauma. The process demonstrates the progressive deterioration that can occur following multiple incidents. The data also represents the largest single collection of its kind gathered to date, providing a valuable resource for concussion researchers nationwide.

Baseline concussion testing is a critical component of post-injury management services for thousands of Humboldt and Del Norte County residents each year. Dr. Ortega’s research teams consist of students who get hands-on research experience conducting the testing.

“Many of the students working in the North Coast Concussion Program have gone on to work in a variety of institutions across the U.S. and found the program provided them with cutting-edge experience not available at most four-year universities,” says Larson.

By promoting a greater understanding of sports-related head injuries, the project aims to motivate other universities to become involved, furthering research into diagnosing, protecting and treating not only athletes, but anyone who experiences head trauma.

The program recently received a $242,000, two-year research grant from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the U.S. Department of Defense.