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What You Need to Know About Kids and Brain Injuries

Tuesday, February 20, 2018By Richard Alexander

Being informed about the effects of brain injuries is not just important for athletes. Indeed, brain injuries in adults and kids can have long-term serious consequences. While these injuries can be catastrophic for anyone, research tells us that children can be more severely affected. A child’s brain is different in significant ways and understanding these differences is critical to recognizing and treating brain injuries.

Brain Development in Children

Let’s first distinguish between a head injury and a brain injury. A head injury is a blow to the skull. In contrast, a brain injury can result from a head injury and occurs when the brain is knocked around inside the skull from an impact that causes damage to the nerves of the brain. Concussion and traumatic brain injury are two types of brain injuries.

Unlike adults, children’s brains are constantly developing. If a child is impaired after an injury occurs, it may not be apparent at first. The effects may only be seen years later as the child develops cognitively. In contrast, it is much simpler to assess the damage in an adult after a brain injury. The injured adult’s mental and physical capabilities are well known and this gives medical professionals better information to make predictions and develop treatment plans.

How Brain Injury Manifests in Children

Brain injuries manifest differently in children than adults. Children’s motor skills may be delayed and they may exhibit emotional symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. They may also experience deficits in memory functioning and other mental tasks, such as focusing and planning. Their academic skills may be severely affected.

Research shows that children take longer to recover from a brain injury than adults. Also, children who are diagnosed with one concussion are at a higher risk of having a second concussion after an injury that occurs soon after the first one.

In some cases, a disturbance in the brain development of a child can lead to damage that cannot be reversed. For this reason, children with traumatic brain injuries tend to fare worse than adults with comparable injuries.

Recognition of Symptoms and Diagnosis

Diagnosing a concussion in a child can be more complicated than in an adult. Children may not recognize symptoms or be able to describe them clearly to a doctor. This is especially true for symptoms that are harder to explain clearly, like vertigo. Also, children may underreport or exaggerate symptoms for various reasons. For example, an athlete who wants to return to play may not fully report the extent of his symptoms. This can make diagnosis and treatment more complicated.

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