Toronto (July 8, 2021) – "I don't know," is rarely a phrase anyone wants to hear from a doctor. Yet, for the 150,000 Ontarians diagnosed with a concussion each year, it's often the response they get, if they ask when they'll start to feel better.

The ability to determine who will recover quickly, and who will continue to suffer from symptoms has largely eluded the medical community. Until now.

With up to 20 per cent of adults with concussion experiencing symptoms that persist beyond three months post-injury, a team of researchers at the KITE Research Institute at UHN asked: “What risk factors pre-dispose an adult to long-term symptoms?"

The findings, which were published in PLOS Medicine, have been translated into a new, online calculator that helps doctors determine which adult patients are at greater risk of experiencing persistent concussion symptoms – and it's the only one of its kind.

"Until now, we've had no way of predicting who will bounce back, and who will continue to suffer from migraines, dizziness, and other symptoms that prevent people from fully returning to daily life," says research analyst Laura Langer, the study's Lead Author.

"Doctors can now use this calculator to identify those at risk for longer symptoms and develop a tailored treatment program for each patient," says Dr. Mark Bayley, Program Medical Director of Toronto Rehab, and one of the co-authors on the study.

The calculator is most impactful when a patient is first diagnosed, and valid for six months, post-injury.

While data was collected in Ontario, outcomes can be scalable across Canada and beyond.

Watch our video and learn more about this calculator (media may download)

Who is at risk?

By leveraging the ICES Data Repository – a province-wide archive that integrates multiple health databases – the team captured unprecedented, comprehensive, information of Ontarians with concussions, five years pre- and two years post-injury.

They found that groups at highest risk of persistent post-concussion symptoms include:

  • Adults over 61 years old
  • Adults with a history of high healthcare utilization in the year prior to injury
  • Adults with a history of anxiety and/or depression
  • Adults with a history of personality and bipolar disorders

How the calculator works

Once doctors log onto the calculator, they're prompted to ask patients five questions relating to their health history. Based on responses, the calculator generates a score that allows doctors to quickly assess a patient's risk of prolonged recovery.

Doctors use this information, at the time a concussion is diagnosed, to create more patient-centred treatment plans. This may include more frequent monitoring, earlier referrals to specialists, a customized exercise prescription and educational materials.

The calculator is also useful in reassuring patients with a low-risk score of the likelihood of good outcomes.

The study was funded by, and conducted in collaboration with, Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, with support from the UHN Foundation.

About the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation

This work was initiated and supported by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (ONF). The Foundation worked to drive translational research in the areas of acquired brain injury, spinal cord injury and injury prevention to improve health outcomes in Ontario for more than 20 years.

About the KITE Research Institute

KITE is the research arm of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and one of the principle research enterprises at the University Health Network (UHN), Canada's largest medical research hospital. KITE is a world leader in the field of the complex rehabilitation research, with scientists and staff dedicated to improving the lives of people living with the effects of disability, illness and aging. At KITE, our mission is to be a trailblazer in research, education, knowledge translation and clinical application.

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