A recent study has added another piece to the growing body of evidence that has shown that children who experience brain injuries are twice as likely to have long lasting consequences later in life. Researchers reviewed data found in the National Survey of Children’s Health from 2007 and were able to determine that children who had suffered a brain injury were almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression.
The findings came after researchers examined medical records pertaining to 2,000 children with brain injuries and 3,112 children with clinical depression. The sample size chosen was meant to reflect the national averages of occurrence for both phenomena at 1.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. Upon comparison, it was found that non-injured children suffered a depression rate of 3.5 percent whereas those who had a traumatic brain injury had a depression rate of 15 percent. This is nearly five times the rate and after controlling for conditions that predict depression, this rate remained steady at nearly twice as high as their non-injured cohorts.
Research emphasizes that these findings are important for medical professionals who will need to monitor children who have experienced head trauma for early signs of emotional distress. With mental health diagnoses, early detection and intervention are the most effective approaches to treatment and physicians will need to know what to look for to determine when to pass their patients on to a mental health professional for treatment in order to ensure better outcomes for the patient.
Children’s depressive symptoms are sometimes hard to identify as they can present themselves, or be expressed, in somewhat indirect ways, such as repeated complaints about head or stomach pains, or of boredom. This makes it important for those in the medical profession to have a complete arsenal of predictors for depression and brain injury is being added to the list.
The potential for lasting consequences in children who have had brain injuries is not limited to just an elevated risk of depression. There are many more serious complications that can arise for children and adults alike as the result of head trauma.
When a concussion occurs, it is because bruising of the soft tissues has hindered the functioning of those areas. This is often accompanied by changes in behavior and emotionality. These changes are symptoms of the underlying concussion and will abate as the concussion heals. However, the disappearance of the symptoms does not mean that the concussion has resolved itself completely and the brain is more vulnerable to further trauma while healing is in process. Further injury to the brain could compound the damage.
Research has been conducted on this effect and has found that repeated head injuries resulted in a longer recovery time before the symptoms began to subside, especially if a previous trauma had occurred in the previous 12 months. According to the research conducted, the median amount of days for symptoms to persist shot up to 35 days when another injury had occurred in that 12 month time period. The median time for symptom persistence in patients with previous injuries older than 12 months was 28 days. The median for a patient with no history of head trauma was somewhere around 12 days.
In fact, there is further research that demonstrates the effects of injuries to the brain lasting for decades after the injury. This can be found most acutely in former athletes for the NFL. Brain imaging revealed that formerly injured areas of the brain contained proteins typically characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Other long lasting symptoms include those that mimic Parkinson’s disease as well as impaired attention and memory. The symptoms tended to be more pronounced as the athletes aged and parts of their cortex showed evidence of thinning. Many of the concussions in question were 30 years old.
This research has led to a push for reform in the NFL to help protect its athletes. It also demonstrates the importance of safety for children in sports programs as well. During the research conducted into repeated injury nearly 64 percent of children studied who had experienced a brain injury were participating in a sport at the time of their injury. Researchers caution that athletes should not be allowed to participate in any event that could result in a second injury until the first is completely healed. This includes a time frame beyond when the symptoms abate, as evidence shows that vulnerability to injury is present far longer than the symptoms present themselves.
Brain injuries in children need to be taken very seriously as it has been shown in multiple studies that the potential for long lasting consequences is very real and have the very real potential of affecting the child for the rest of his or her life.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard