The Return to Play Act strongly suggests that athletes get computerized cognitive testing before the season starts and after they've been diagnosed with a concussion.
One of those programs is called ImPACT. The athlete goes through a series of six tests including word memory, visual memory, and reaction time.
Their scores are compared to their pre-season numbers to track their recovery progress.
"The test is not a pass or fail test," says athletic trainer Tee Spinks with Piedmont Orthopedics. "We're trying to get a baseline function of your brain, and what we're trying to do here is test you not only with reaction time, how quickly you answer, but how correctly you answer and we'll test your short-term memory and your long-term memory."
In some of the tests, words, shapes, or drawings will appear on the screen. Then, the athlete will be asked to remember them while answering a series of other questions.
After the memory tests, the athlete will go through reaction time tests.
Spinks says, "If you have a slow reaction time based upon norms, if it's below the norms, we tend to generally think of fogginess. Basically, a reaction time norm is 0.55 seconds, and when I see someone in a concussed case, they're in a 0.8, 0.9, or 1.0."
The final part looks at the athlete's long-term memory. He or she will be asked to remember some of the same words, shapes, and drawings they saw at the beginning of the tests.
Spinks says the ImPACT screening gives athletic trainers a better look at brain function, which helps them decide when an athlete is ready to start playing again.
He says, "There are intelligent athletes who have tried to figure out that 'if I bow this test, and try to act dumb the first time, that if I am concussed, it won't show up and I get to play.' That has been proven, but this test has been tested and retested for validity and reliability to the point where the baseline picks up on anyone just trying to throw the test for that purpose."
The ImPACT test isn't the only screening an athlete must pass to get back on the field. Doctors and athletic trainers will also put them through balance and exertion tests and gradually ease them back into playing.