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Childhood Head Trauma Has Long-Lasting Consequences

A study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) suffered by young children can have a long-term negative effect on their quality of life.

The study found that the majority of children (85 percent) suffered mild trauma and showed few effects two years after the trauma, but those with moderate or severe trauma had much greater deficits in their abilities. Their ability to provide for their self-care and communicate with others was diminished.

Moderate To Severe Injury

Children who suffered the moderate to severe brain injuries engaged in a substantially lower level of social and community activities after three months, and while this improved at the 12-month mark, it was still "significantly impaired."

At two-years, they showed a small improvement, but remained substantially lower than the quality of life indicators for the control group.

Troublingly, the condition of the moderate to severe TBI patients in the study was noted as "lower than that of children undergoing active treatment for cancer."

Prevention

For many of the younger children, the study points to the value of prevention. While children have a remarkable capacity to recover from many injuries, this study show that the brain is different, and that moderate to severe brain injuries can have long lasting effects that remain after the injury may be forgotten.

Prevention is important, as many of the injuries may be caused by youthful exuberance and a failure to fully appreciate the risk posed by the activity.

Boys were at a much higher risk of injury and those younger than 4-years old and older than 14 were most likely to suffer injury. Younger children tend to be injured by falls. Among the older children, contributing factors to the injuries were sports and car accidents.

In the study, motor vehicle accidents accounted for 38.4 percent of the severe TBI and falls were responsible for 23.1 percent. 15.4 percent of severe TBI were caused by being struck by or against an object, often indicating a sport injury.

A US News and World Report article discussing the study cited Dr. Gail L. Rosseau, a neurosurgeon, who indicated that the study reinforced the need for legislation to protect school age children in organized sports.

She mentioned a statute from the state of Washington that was named after a student who suffered a permanent brain injury playing high-school football. She indicated that 30 states have legislation that mandate any child injured with a concussion be cleared by a medical professional before they return to playing sports.

Brain Injuries

Much of how the brain functions remains unclear. While a great deal has been learned in the last hundred years, much more is little understood. We know concussions cause hemorrhages and bleeding within the brain, and we know some are able to recover from severe injuries. The amount of the trauma and how much how many times one can suffer trauma and recover is largely unknown.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

A recent series of articles in the New York Times discussed the death of professional hockey player Derek Boogaard pointed to disturbing findings from the examination of his brain.

After his death in May of 2011 from a drug-alcohol mixture, his family allowed his brain to be examined. Researchers quickly identified the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

This is a disease of the brain that is caused by traumatic blows to the head. It often appears in the brains of old boxers. Boogaard was an "enforcer" in hockey, a player who is valued for his ability to fight.

By the end of August 2011, two other enforcers had died, "reportedly suicides" according to the Times, and four out of four hockey players who had been recently examined had been found to be suffering from CTE.

Boogaard's case is most troubling, as he was only 27 when he died, still playing and he had not experienced a long career of head trauma.

The NHL dismissed the connection, but the growing weight of evidence points to the danger posed by repeated traumatic blows to the head. The study from Pediatrics is one more indication that head trauma for children is especially bad.

Given the increase in the number of highly organized, intense sporting activities where children are can be exposed to repetitive trauma, the potential for long-term damage must be considered. Whether from football, soccer or a car accident, injuries to the head cannot be taken lightly.

Through Examination

Because of the potential effect on long-term development, it is very important that any child suffering from a traumatic brain injury undergo a detailed medical examination. If the injuries are severe, the child's development may be profoundly affected and they may be in need of special care, life-long therapy and other accommodations.

If the injuries were caused by negligence, it is important to speak with professionals, both legal and medical. An attorney can help with legal action and other long-term planning issues. They also can work to identify other professionals, medical, economic and other necessary specialties.

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