Alum Conducts Concussion Research

Fall 2012

ordan Cottle ’11 is conducting concussion research about college and high school athletes in the Exercise Science Department at Elon University in North Carolina along with three other undergraduate students and two faculty mentors. A sophomore, Cottle is majoring in exercise science. “Within that major, I study the science behind exercise, and how exercise works, as well as how it affects the body,” he explains.

In order to research the effects of concussions on athletes, Cottle and his colleagues are giving baseline testing to athletes by assessing a variety of factors such as their balance, perception of different stimuli, and cognitive performance. “We also test their brain activity using an EEG, which is pretty much a cap that goes on their head with 32 electrodes that sense electrical brain waves. While they are wearing the EEG cap, we give them two tests, one visual and one auditory,” says Cottle. This baseline testing assesses athletes’ full cognitive health  before a head injury.

If a subject later gets a concussion, Cottle says, “We ask them to come back in soon after they are first diagnosed and
repeat the testing. We then compare the data, both baseline and post concussion, to see if there are any changes.” They give athletes post-concussion testing, and can use their data to clear them for physical activity.

“We are using our previous knowledge as well as our findings from our research to help educate athletes and keep them safe.”
 The data that we have can help determine whether or not they are healthy enough to compete,” says Cottle. Recently, Cottle and his colleagues finished baseline testing the university’s women’s volleyball and softball teams, as well as the men’s baseball team.

The main goal of their testing is to compare cognitive performance both before and after a person is diagnosed with a concussion to see if there are any massive changes in performance. “We would like to further the base of knowledge surrounding concussions, so people can be better educated when it comes to head injuries,” says Cottle.

This study has been under way for three years. Cottle became involved this year after the students who were previously involved graduated. “My faculty mentors were looking for students to bring on to continue to work on the study. I took a Kinesiology class last spring with Dr. Caroline Ketcham, who is one of my mentors. She thought I showed that I could be a very motivated and hard working student, so she and my other mentor, Dr. Eric Hall, asked me if I was interested in being a part of this project,” he says. In August, he met with the professors and after learning more about the research, Cottle signed on to the project. “They thought it was great that I was a sophomore because I can continue to work on the project for the next three years and build it into something that I really care about,” he says.

Cottle says he uses a lot of the skills he learned at Innovation Academy in his research. “IACS taught me to be motivated and hard working, which is why Dr. Ketcham asked me to be a part of the project. IACS taught me so much about how to be a leader as well, which really helps while conducting tests on subjects. I also learned how to work very well with a team, which I have to do all the time on this project since I am working with five other people. I use so many of the skills I learned while at Innovation Academy in real life as well as while working on this project.”

While Cottle says their research has mostly focused on college athletes, they have also tested high school students. “The testing we do on high school students is slightly different. We bring in a whole high school football team on a Saturday morning, so we usually have between 30 and 60 kids. Since there are so many people, we do not have time to do the EEG test, so we just do everything
else,” he says. 

All of the high school students also receive a 40-minute information session from an athletic trainer about the dangers of concussions and why it is so important to go through the correct rehabilitation
stages before going back to full contact competition. “I really feel that this is a great part of the project,” says Cottle.

“Concussions can be very dangerous. It is very important that kids who are subject to concussions know the dangers of head injuries and the correct way to recover from them. If a concussion is not treated correctly and the athlete returns to competition still concussed, the consequences can be huge.”

After graduation, Cottle plans to attend graduate school. “Right now I am thinking about either furthering my studies by focusing on strength and conditioning training, or getting into cardiac and pulmonary rehab. In either field, I would love to do more research,” he says. “I love what I do, because we are using our previous knowledge as well as our findings from our research to help educate athletes and keep them safe.”

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