Each year, amateur and professional athletes suffer from between 1.7 million and three million concussions related to sports and recreation, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Half of these incidents go unreported or undetected but in sports like American football – which accounts for about 300,000 injuries – it has become a major topic of discussion in recent years.
The link between repeated head injuries and Alzheimer’s disease was established by forensic pathologist Dr Bennet Omalu – whose findings were popularised by the 2015 Will Smith film Concussion – and the issue has since been picked up in association football too.
One of the problems for team doctors is that brain impairment can be difficult to detect when there are no visible injuries immediately after impact or the full-time whistle.
But as scientific understanding improves, so does technology – and Silicon Valley neuro-technology company SyncThink has developed a virtual reality (VR) platform it believes can assist.
Eye-Sync, currently being used by basketball and American football teams in the United States’ professional and college leagues, works by measuring how well players can track a red dot with their eye when wearing a VR headset.
SyncThink chief technology officer Daniel Beeler says the Oculus VR headsets, which are equipped with his company’s sensors and software, have proven popular with teams like the Golden State Warriors, an American professional basketball team based in San Francisco.
“VR is a natural fit for fast, mobile, immersive evaluation of eye movements, and critical evaluation for ocular and balance dysfunction,” says Daniel, who points out how the technology can also boost recovery time and performances.
“When we first saw the Oculus development kits, it became obvious to us that this kind of technology would naturally begin to integrate eye tracking as a default feature.
“That’s what we’re seeing today – sophisticated sensors can dramatically increase player immersion, but that same information can be used as a biomarker for disorientation and attention.” – NS Medical Devices