Smartphone app improves concussion outcomes in teens

Smartphones and teenagers go hand-in-hand, but in the event of a concussion, patients are not advised to use mobile devices. In a report published in Brain Injury, researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center showed teenagers using a mobile health application once a day with medical care improved concussion symptoms.

Although the American Academy of Neurology recommends limiting cognitive and physical activity until a concussion in treated, researchers believe this inactively increases depression and social isolation. To improve patient outcomes, researchers developed a mobile app that treats these factors while also speeding up a patient’s rate of recovery.

"We found that mobile apps incorporating social game mechanics and a heroic narrative can complement medical care to improve health among teenagers with unresolved concussion symptoms,” said first author Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, a physical rehabilitation specialist at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center's Neurological Institute.

The mobile app, called SuperBetter, represents concussion symptoms such as headaches and dizziness as bad guys while medical recommendations are represented as power-ups. Users were also able to invite others into their network to view their activity and send achievements.

"Teens who've had a concussion are told not to use media or screens, and we wanted to test if it was possible for them to use screens just a little bit each day, and get the bang for the buck with that," Worthen-Chaudhari said. "The app rewrites things you might be frustrated about as a personal, heroic narrative. So you might start out feeling 'I'm frustrated. I can't get rid of this headache,' and then the app helps reframe that frustration to 'I battled the headache bad guy today. And I feel good about that hard work.'"

The study enrolled 19 teenagers who received standard care for three weeks after a head injury while the experimental group were given the SuperBetter app to record symptoms through the game.

"Since 2005, the rate of reported concussions in high school athletes has doubled, and youth are especially at risk," said study collaborator Kelsey Logan, MD, MPH, director of the division of sports medicine at Cincinnati Children's. "Pairing the social, mobile app SuperBetter with traditional medical care appears to improve outcomes and optimism for youth with unresolved concussion symptoms. More study is needed to investigate ways that leveraging interactive media may complement medical care and promote health outcomes among youth with concussion and the general population."