Potential of Visual Sensory Screening, Diagnostic Evaluation, and Training for Treatment of Postconcussive Symptoms and Performance Enhancement for Special Forces Qualified Personnel

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Suttles ST 15(2). 54 - 63 (Journal Article)

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or concussive injuries remain a challenge for both athletes and clinicians, given high incidence rates and heterogeneous clinical trajectories. Moreover, exposure to blast in combat is compounded by chronic, frequent exposure to a variety of subclinical impacts and overpressure, in some cases annually over many years. Subsequent injuries are often more severe than the original and lead to higher incidence of chronic symptoms in combat units, particularly Special Operations Forces (SOF), which is compounded by a propensity to underreport or avoid Army medical systems altogether. The unique nature and psychological makeup of SOF Soldiers suggest that new guidelines for progressive return-to-activity and return-to-duty decision-making within the traditional medical setting may not be generalizable to this population. Further, the traditional criteria for return to duty and return to play in sport may be insensitive to persistent deficits, resulting in premature return. There is presidential and Department of Defense mandates for continued research in the areas of diagnostics, treatment, and assessments for return to duty. With recent shift toward understanding clinical trajectories, particularly visual and vestibular trajectories, promising new technology from the field of sports vision may prove useful toward that endeavor. Since the advent of performance programs within SOF units, these Soldiers build trust with performance personnel, which include rehabilitative personnel, through consistent and regular shared experience. Implementation of comprehensive vision and visual performance screening in conjunction with the study of sports vision technology within the performance setting, in conjunction with unit medical personnel, may yield important findings for diagnosis and treatment of mTBI; to include the chronically symptomatic postconcussive Soldiers. Last, with a wealth of literature supporting visual skills training for athlete populations, to include competitive shooters, the implementation of visual skills training will likely be a useful adjunct to performance training of SOF personnel.

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