Wake Forest Baptist researchers look for long-term impacts of concussions

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- One of NASCAR's most popular drivers will have to take a pit stop for now.

Friday, Hendrick motorsports announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss the remainder of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season as he recovers from a concussion.

Dale Jr.’s last race was back in early July.

"I think anytime there's someone well-known that ends up having to deal with this very common issue when it comes to physical activity, it does bring it out to the forefront,” said Dr. Heath Thornton, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

You know, you figure with NASCAR they have these big helmets and their in these cages designed to try and minimize impact but obviously it’s a large impact,” he went on to say.

Recently, Thornton helped kick off a big study involving student-athletes from both Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University, focused on concussions in sports.

"We just started it in the last 4 to 5 months, so the data is just coming in,” Thornton explained.

Designed by the NCAA`s Department of Defense the study, they looks at all areas from reaction time, balance, as well as the demographics of each student.

The short-term impact with kids just starting out in sports has shown clear signs of disruption in both school and at home.

However, long-term impacts on athletes, like Dale Jr., are unclear.

"How these long-term symptoms are related to concussions is hard to fully define and that's what a lot of research is looking into,” said Thornton.

So there has been lots of improvements. Coaches are more aware. Parents are more aware. Athletes are even more aware,” he added.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center goal is to collect multiple years of data and group that with schools also a part of this study to get a better idea of the impacts of head-related injuries.