Are Concussion-Monitoring Devices Effective?

Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) after receiving a concussion on a hard hit on December 8, 2013. Credit: AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post / Getty Images

Concussions are an increasingly serious concern for professional and amateur athletes due to the growing body of research tracking the alarming long-term consequences of head trauma – lasting conditions like cognitive impairment, encephalopathy, and even increased risk of suicide. It's no surprise then that many companies are now scrambling to create and market impact-monitoring devices that claim to assess whether or not an athlete is concussed.

Reebok, for example, now manufacturers a skullcap called Checklight, which players wear under their helmets, that blinks different colors when after a severe hit. Another company, X2 Biosystems, has devoted itself to making wearable impact-monitoring devices that transmit data to the sidelines when a player is hit.

The new technology has excited major sports associations and many parents of young athletes, but not all medical experts are on board. "We don't have all the answers about the criteria or amount of force that causes a concussion – nobody does, and certainly not these devices," says Dr. Dennis Cardone, co-director of NYU Langone Medical's Concussion Center.

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Dr. Cardone urges adult athletes and parents of young players to think twice about Checklight, which, he says, may turn an athlete into a moving target for a harder hit with its row of blinking lights, effectively gamifying gratuitous hits for the other team. "Every player is different," he says. "What may be a hard hit for one might not be as bad for another."