Police officers from departments in the mid-Atlantic region of the country are undergoing concussion screenings in honor of National Brain Injury Awareness Month, which is observed in March every year.
The screenings are the result of a partnership between law enforcement agencies and the Mid-Atlantic Concussion (MAC) Alliance in Hockessin, Delaware.
The screenings, part of the Law Enforcement Concussion Baseline Testing Program, are intended to acquire more in-depth research on concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in law enforcement.
More than 50 Gloucester, New Jersey, police officers underwent 10-second scans to evaluate their brain health. In the unfortunate event of a brain injury, officers in the program will be able to compare their post-injury screening to their baseline scan to guide diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Under the program, each participating officer receives a confidential and free screening using EyeGuide Focus infrared eye-tracking technology — essentially a more high-tech version of the traditional “follow my finger” test. The test is non-invasive and lasts a mere 10 seconds, during which it tracks 1,200 data points of eye movements to analyze and assess the brain’s state of health and wellness.
Any law enforcement agency in the region can participate in the program.
In recognition of National Brain Injury Awareness Month, the Harrison Township and Woodbury City Police Departments in South Jersey decided to share their experience on social media.
“March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and thanks to MAC Alliance Concussion Care we were able to provide all of our officers with invaluable brain-health baseline screenings earlier this week,” the Harrison Township P.D. said on Facebook.
Harrison Township P.D. baselined its officers on March 1 and 2, and the Woodbury City P.D. baselined its officers both in October 2021 and March 2022.
MAC Alliance Baseline Program Coordinator Joe Collins, a retired police corporal, explained that the goal is to obtain more data on TBIs in the law enforcement community and their relationship with PTSD and other mental health disorders common in the profession.
“While we know that car crashes, foot pursuits, physical assaults, house fires, severe weather events and other work activities put police at risk for concussions, little research exists into the frequency or severity of TBIs in law enforcement,” Collins said.
“TBIs have been linked to poor outcomes in relation to PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse. Statistics show that law enforcement officers show up in emergency rooms with non-life-threatening injuries three times more often than the civilian population,” Collins continued. “Considering this, and without having enough concussion and TBI research currently available on law enforcement, I think it’s prudent to assume that cops are suffering more head injuries than people in most other occupations.”
MAC Alliance medical director and concussion specialist Dr. Vincent E. Schaller is a critical part of the initiative.
“I have worked with many police officers in my concussion practice, so I understand the head injury risks involved with the work they do,” Schaller said. “My team and I want to give back to these people who have been putting their lives on the line to protect and serve their communities. These baseline tests are a way of showing our appreciation for all that they do.”