Stopping concussions with head gear that isn't a helmet

It's been more than 10 years since the physician Bennet Omalu uncovered evidence that head trauma sustained in professional football could lead to serious health issues for players later on in life. An estimated 3.8 million concussions occur in the US each year during competitive sports, and kids make up about 70% of all sports- and recreation-related concussions seen in the emergency department, according to CDC data. New VR software technology aims to lower those numbers by giving young athletes a realistic look at how concussions impact your brain.

CrashCourse VR software, released Friday, offers an interactive experience that puts users in the middle of a simulated high school football game -- featuring real college football players. During the game, the user sustains a concussion. Later, the user experiences the consequences that follow a brain injury through the Symptoms Simulator. The program was developed by TeachAids, Pop Warner Little Scholars and USA Football, along with researchers from Stanford University.

The program's goal is to teach young athletes about the importance of head safety and properly diagnosing and treating concussions. CrashCourse features multiple sports in its interactive video sessions, with versions for youth athletes, parents and coaches.

The developers are planning to add a brain fly-through to let users visualize the effects of a concussion on the human brain. CrashCourse will also get a Story Wall feature that includes over 500 video stories from people who've had concussions, with interviews from medical experts and more.

Before the jump to VR, Pop Warner Little Scholars distributed CrashCourse in video format in 2018. Moving the program to VR makes a difference, according to the developers. Most recently, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors ruled that schools require parents and students, regardless of sport, to view CrashCourse concussion education before each season.

"VR is an incredibly powerful medium with proven ability to increase empathy and change behavior," Piya Sorcar, CEO of TeachAids, said in a release. "We hope that these educational materials will provide young football players, as well as youth in all sports, with the knowledge and tools necessary to keep themselves safer."

CrashCourse VR is free to download on Oculus Go, Oculus Rift or Rift S.