King-Devick study assesses head injuries in the Army

Soldiers in the Combatives Master Trainer course practice punching and form July 26 at the U.S. Army Combatives Course, Fort Benning. (Photos by Desiree Dillehay)

Soldiers in the Combatives Master Trainer course practice punching and form July 26 at the U.S. Army Combatives Course, Fort Benning. (Photos by Desiree Dillehay)

By Desiree Dillehay, Fort Benning Public Affairs /

Data collection for the King-Devick concussion test began July 25 at the U.S. Army Combatives Course at Fort Benning as part of the Army’s human dimension strategy to invest in holistic health, injury prevention and total fitness.

“This study addresses these (investments) by improving the screening for concussion, which will indicate when a service member may be suffering from compromised cognitive functioning and health, and need time to recover from the injury,” said Maj. Michael Dretsch, Ph.D., chief cognitive scientist of the Human Dimension Division at Training and Doctrine Command Headquarters.

“There are two parts that make up the study. The first and primary part will be evaluating a couple different cognitive instruments to determine if any of them are superior to detecting neurologic disruption associated with mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as concussion,” said Dretsch.

“The second arm of the study will be conducted at Auburn University where we will be doing some high-resolution brain imaging to explore the degree to which neuroanatomic and physiologic changes are correlated with performance on the instruments we are evaluating.”

He added that the study will also provide information to better understand the impact of blows to the head, and the brain imaging data might help the U.S. Army to predict the long-term outcomes of concussion.

“Based on our findings, we hope to influence policy by informing Training and Doctrine Command, Defense Veterans Brain Injury Center, Office of the Army Surgeon General, combat casualty care initiatives, Military Health System and ultimately, the way we assess concussion in training environments such as combatives and airborne school and West Point boxing, and deployment environments,” said Dretsch. “This might also lead to changes in training that might mitigate any long-term effects from being knocked on the head.”

According to Staff Sgt. Kevin Anderson, senior instructor at the U.S. Army Combatives course, the study will help the Army determine not just traumatic brain injuries, but also better training models.

“Tactically we have to focus more on mitigation of a concussion. And the way we focus mitigation, is training combatives, training how to block, training to get away from the punch, training to prevent my enemy from hitting me,” Anderson said.

Jenifer Fauth, project director with the Geneva Foundation, screens a Soldier for concussion using the King-Devick test July 25 at the U.S. Army Combatives Course, Fort Benning. (Photos by Desiree Dillehay)

Jenifer Fauth, project director with the Geneva Foundation, screens a Soldier for concussion using the King-Devick test July 25 at the U.S. Army Combatives Course, Fort Benning.

According to Dretsch, the study will last approximately one year and includes briefing combatives students, acquiring their enrollment consent and a relatively brief set of tests at the beginning of their training and again at the end, or after having sustained a blow to the head that resulted in a concussion.

The testing will take place in an air-conditioned trailer, which will be strategically positioned across from the combatives gym.

Dretsch added that once enrolled in the study, eligible participants would have the opportunity to sign up for the second arm of the study to have their brain scanned at the Auburn University MRI Research Center. This will require two trips to Auburn for two different scans.

“Due to the inherent risk for concussion during Army combatives training, tapping into this group was a no brainer,” added Dretsch. “We also hope to eventually recruit participants for the study from the Airborne school.”

“An important thing to remember is that a concussion doesn’t require an individual to lose consciousness or be knocked out. There are neurological changes accompanying sub-concussive blows,” Dretsch said.

“Decrements in cognition and the development of symptoms associated with concussion can compromise a Soldier’s operational effectiveness, and ultimately, that of his or her unit.”

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