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Heads Up: New Technologies Address Traumatic Brain Injury

Wearable devices help “measure the unseen” to improve TBI detection and treatment.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a growing health concern in many occupations and disciplines. From amateur and professional athletes to soldiers and first responders, more and more people worldwide are at risk of sustaining TBIs and suffering potentially debilitating long-term effects.

TBIs can happen anywhere, from battlefields to sports arenas, at home or on the road. Among both children and adults, falls are the leading cause of these impacts to the head, followed by blunt trauma, car crashes, and assaults.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBI incidents result in 2.2 million emergency room visits and cause more than 50,000 deaths nationwide every year. Even a seemingly minor brain injury can lead to long-term symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, trouble organizing thoughts, fatigue, headaches, and memory loss. And, of course, it’s not only the injured individuals who are affected; TBI-related issues can also have lasting effects on families and communities. The issue has gained an even higher profile in recent years as more sports organizations, such as the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, have adopted new policies, guidelines, and protocols in response to concerns about TBIs.

Wearable Technology to Measure the Unseen

The key to improvement lies in better understanding, preventing, and treating brain injuries. BlackBox Biometrics is contributing to that effort by developing advanced sensor systems that can instantly measure the unseen impact of concussive forces that can cause TBI. Among the company’s innovations is the Linx Impact Assessment System (IAS), a wearable device that fits inside a headband or skull cap to monitor athletes regardless of whether their sports require the use of helmets. (A recent episode of The Verge’s “Detours” series explores what’s at stake and how the technology works.)

With its advanced technology, including microelectromechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers developed by Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI), Linx IAS can measure how hard, and how many times, athletes sustain impacts to the head. The accelerometers then send real-time data to a paired smartphone or tablet for analysis, for correlation to potential injury, or to fine-tune an athlete’s technique. The mobile application also includes a built-in sideline test that can help medical personnel decide whether to remove an athlete from play and/or seek medical attention.

Advanced technology helps better detect traumatic brain injury in a variety of situations. Photo by BlackBox Biometrics Inc. Used with permission.

Better Assessment of Concussive Events

For use in dangerous environments, BlackBox Biometrics has also developed the Blast Gauge System, a three-gauge wearable set for first responders that measures exposure to blast overpressure—shock waves caused by explosions, the firing of weapons, sonic booms, and similar events. The Blast Gauge System is used by U.S. Special Forces, the FBI, and law-enforcement Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams to provide faster, more accurate treatment for people injured on the front lines.

ADI’s MEMS components are essential to the success of the Linx monitoring system, says David Borkholder, BlackBox Biometrics’ chief technology officer. “ADI MEMS accelerometers provide high-g measurement capabilities with industry-leading sampling rates, enhancing the ability of the Blast Gauge System to accurately detect explosive and concussive events,” he explains.

With multiple ADI MEMS inertial sensors, the system collects precise data measurements and relays them to the operator at the press of a button. Green, yellow, and red status LEDs provide instant triage data, and a micro–universal serial bus (USB) connection saves complete time-based data for later analysis by medical personnel. The ADI measurement sensors are based on multiaxis combinations of precision gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, and pressure sensors. The technology reliably senses and processes multiple degrees of freedom, even in highly complex applications and under dynamic conditions.

Increasing Understanding, Improving Lives

As the industry leader in advanced sensor technology, ADI collaborates with and provides technologies for innovators such as BlackBox Biometrics, whose solutions positively affect lives and help redefine entire fields of study. ADI’s high-performance components and system solutions enable customers to develop products that are truly ahead of what’s possible.

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