ImPACT program

The ImPACT is designed to test verbal and visual memory, reaction time, motor speed and impulse control. 

Chris Eastep looked at me, shook his head, and said two of the most dreaded words a young athlete can hear.

“You’re out!”

What? You mean I flunked?

“Based on your test scores, I couldn’t let you play,” Eastep said, firmly.

Eastep is the certified athletic trainer at Walla Walla High School. At his invitation, I had just taken the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (ImPACT) in his office out on the Blue Devils’ campus.

Granted, I’m not a young athlete. Not even an old one.

But since I was working on a story that focused on sports concussions for Lifestyles magazine, I thought it would be helpful to take the test. But I didn’t plan on failing it.

The ImPACT is administered to all athletes at Wa-Hi — and most other high schools in the state of Washington — to establish a cognitive baseline score prior to their entering into competition. In the event that they suffer a head injury, they are required to retake the test and achieve a score similar to their baseline score before they are allowed to return to competition.

To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t suffered a concussion since I fell out of a tree and landed on my noggin when I was 10 years old — more than half a decade ago. Yet, there were my test results in black and white.

Verbal memory composite: out; visual memory composite: out; visual motor-speed composite: out; reaction time composite: out.

I was embarrassed, to say the least. My only defense was that I might have hurried through portions of the test. Eastep had warned me to take my time and carefully read all directions. But I had a noon tee time that I wasn’t about to miss.

Just the same, the ImPACT is not easy. It is divided into six separate categories that are designed to measure verbal and visual memory, motor speed, reaction time and impulse control.

I did fairly well on the first segment, word discrimination, where a series of 12 random words appeared on a computer screen for 1.5 seconds each. After a brief delay, a second series of words appeared for a similar time of 1.5 seconds each, and you were required to determine which words were repeated from the first series and which were new words.

But the second segment, design memory, proved to be impossible.

Similar to the first segment, a series of 12 random squiggly patterns appeared on the screen for 1.5 seconds each. Then a second set appeared, and you had to decide which were repeats, and which were new.

Unlike words, which I could easily identify with, the squiggly patterns were completely foreign to me. And my test scores revealed that I got nearly as many wrong as I did right.

The third segment displayed a random pattern of 26 X’s and O’s, with three of them highlighted. After an interlude in which you were asked to identify red circles and blue squares in rapid-fire fashion, the X’s-and-O’s pattern reappeared, and you were asked to highlight the same three that were highlighted in the original pattern.

I aced the circles and squares, but struck out with the X’s and O’s.

The fourth segment, symbol matching, was equally difficult. But I scored better in the fifth segment, which was the rapid-fire matching of colors with corresponding words — the word “RED” in a red box being correct, the word “GREEN” in a blue box incorrect.

The sixth segment was probably the most interesting of all.

First, three random letters appeared on the screen, then 25 small boxes, with the numbers 1 through 25 randomly positioned within the boxes. You were then asked to count backwards from 25 to 1, as quickly as possible, by clicking on the individual box that matched each number. At the conclusion, you were asked to record the three letters that had appeared when the test had begun.

I managed a correct average of 9.4 on the reverse count — between 15 and 16 — and I scored 80 percent on the three-letter recollection. Passable scores, I guess, but not nearly enough to overcome shortcomings with the squiggles, symbols, and X’s and O’s.

Eastep told me later that one of his Wa-Hi students reverse-counted from 25 all the way to 1 every time he took the test, which Eastep and I agreed was amazing.

Now that I have a baseline, I’d like to take the test again. I think I could do better in several of the segments. At the very least, I could match my baseline score and become eligible to play in the next game.

But about those squiggles …

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