According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year an average of 62,000 children between the ages of 0-19 sustain brain injuries needing hospital stays. These injuries happen from motor vehicle crashes, falls, sports, physical abuse, and other causes. At greatest risk for brain injury are children between the ages of 0-4 and 15-19. A concussion is one form of a brain injury.
Symptoms and recovery course for brain injuries vary greatly depending on the cause and severity of the injury. It is common for injuries to cause problems in such areas as cognitive functioning, physical capabilities, communication, and social, emotional, or behavioral regulation. Such symptoms include:
• Cognitive impairments – short term memory loss, issues with concentration and attention, slowness of thinking
• Physical impairments – issues with vision/hearing, headaches, impaired motor coordination and balance, fatigue
• Language/communication – decreased ability to create or understand language, trouble thinking of right words to use, decreased vocabulary
• Social/emotional/behavioral – mood swings, anxiety, depression, restlessness, problems controlling emotions
With children, whose brains are still developing, it is important to keep an eye out for symptoms following a brain injury so that they can receive additional supports if needed – such as medical care, special accommodations at school, speech therapy, occupational therapy, or help from a mental health specialist. It is common for some problems to become more noticeable as a child gets older and needs to use different skills, such as concentration, attention, and socially appropriate behaviors, in school and with friends.
Reducing the incidence of brain injuries in children starts with prevention.
Follow these tips for brain injury prevention:
• Always make sure your child is wearing a seat belt when in the car. Small children should be in appropriate car seats or booster seats depending on age, size, and weight.
• Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
• Children, adolescents, and teens must always wear a helmet when riding a bike, scooter, skateboard, snowmobile, dirt bike or ATV.
• Use appropriate head gear in contact sports (baseball, hockey, football, etc.), skiing, sledding, skating, or riding a horse.
• Do not walk, drive, or cross a street when texting. Always be aware of surroundings.
• Place non-slip mats in bathtub/shower as well as under area rugs.
• Do not leave babies unattended on beds or changing tables. Never place occupied carriers on high surfaces such as countertops or tables without supervision.
• Install safety gates at top and bottom of all stairs.
• Place safety guards on windows.
• Keep stairs clutter-free.
• Play on playgrounds with shock-absorbing materials on ground.
Bridgid M. O’Brien, MSN, APRN, CPNP – Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine