Introduction: The prevalence and possible long-term consequences of concussion remain an increasing concern to the U.S. military, particularly as it pertains to maintaining a medically ready force. Baseline testing is being used both in the civilian and military domains to assess concussion injury and recovery. Accurate interpretation of these baseline assessments requires one to consider other influencing factors not related to concussion. To date, there is limited understanding, especially within the military, of what factors influence normative test performance. Given the significant physical and mental demands placed on service academy members (SAM), and their relatively high risk for concussion, it is important to describe demographics and normative profile of SAMs. Furthermore, the absence of available baseline normative data on female and non-varsity SAMs makes interpretation of post-injury assessments challenging. Understanding how individuals perform at baseline, given their unique individual characteristics (e.g., concussion history, sex, competition level), will inform post-concussion assessment and management. Thus, the primary aim of this manuscript is to characterize the SAM population and determine normative values on a concussion baseline testing battery. Materials and Methods: All data were collected as part of the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education (CARE) Consortium. The baseline test battery included a post-concussion symptom checklist (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT), psychological health screening inventory (Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI-18) and neurocognitive evaluation (ImPACT), Balance Error Scoring System (BESS), and Standardized Assessment of Concussion (SAC). Linear regression models were used to examine differences across sexes, competition levels, and varsity contact levels while controlling for academy, freshman status, race, and previous concussion. Zero inflated negative binomial models estimated symptom scores due to the high frequency of zero scores. Results: Significant, but small, sex effects were observed on the ImPACT visual memory task. While, females performed worse than males (p < 0.0001, pη2 = 0.01), these differences were small and not larger than the effects of the covariates. A similar pattern was observed for competition level on the SAC. There was a small, but significant difference across competition level. SAMs participating in varsity athletics did significantly worse on the SAC compared to SAMs participating in club or intramural athletics (all p's < 0.001, η2 = 0.01). When examining symptom reporting, males were more than two times as likely to report zero symptoms on the SCAT or BSI-18. Intramural SAMs had the highest number of symptoms and severity compared to varsity SAMs (p < 0.0001, Cohen's d < 0.2). Contact level was not associated with SCAT or BSI-18 symptoms among varsity SAMs. Notably, the significant differences across competition level on SCAT and BSI-18 were sub-clinical and had small effect sizes. Conclusion: The current analyses provide the first baseline concussion battery normative data among SAMs. While statistically significant differences may be observed on baseline tests, the effect sizes for competition and contact levels are very small, indicating that differences are likely not clinically meaningful at baseline. Identifying baseline differences and significant covariates is important for future concussion-related analyses to inform concussion evaluations for all athlete levels.
- Service academy