Traumatic Brain Injury in Children
According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), the top cause of death and disability in children and teens is traumatic brain injury. Aside from adults age 65 and older, young people age 15 to 24 have the highest rate of TBI-related hospital admissions among all age groups. Children ages 5 to 14 have the lowest overall rate of TBI-related hospital admissions.
The mechanisms of TBI injury in young people are largely the same as for adults – falls and vehicle accidents are leading causes – but there are a few notable differences. Infants and small children are uniquely at risk for a type of TBI called shaken baby syndrome, brain damage caused by abuse. Young athletes who suffer from a mild form of brain injury called concussion have a risk of serious or fatal complications, should they suffer a subsequent brain injury during recovery.
The BIAA notes that children suffer more serious outcomes, when compared to adults that have sustained a TBI of the same severity. As children’s brains are growing, it may be impossible to predict the ways in which a TBI can manifest – some cognitive or physical impairments may not surface until years later.
Sports and TBI
About 21 percent of TBIs are sports-related. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the sports that caused the most head injuries in 2009 requiring emergency room treatment for children younger than 15 were:
- Cycling: 40,272
- Football: 21,878
- Baseball/Softball: 18,246
- Basketball: 14,952
- Skateboards/Scooters: 14,783
- Water Sports: 12,843
- Soccer: 8,392
- Powered Recreational Vehicles: 6,818
- Winter Sports: 6,750
- Trampolines: 5,025.
Sports that parents may not consider dangerous have also been blamed for TBI in children. Cheerleading, for example, has caused more injuries as the stunts involved have grown more complex and challenging. In the 2010-2011 school year, cheerleading caused 1,579 concussions, and one catastrophic injury in which two high school cheerleaders collided and one suffered two skull fractures that triggered seizures.
Most people will recover from the immediate effects of concussion within two to three weeks. Sports coaches must be absolutely certain a young athlete has completely recovered from a concussion before returning to play, due to the risk of second-impact syndrome.
Second-impact syndrome is rare, but when it occurs, it’s usually fatal. This syndrome is when a child recovering from a concussion suffers a subsequent concussion, causing rapid swelling of the brain.
In recent years, scientists and medical professionals have been researching chronic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain injuries. Originally associated only with professional boxing, the disease has been discovered in the brains of former professional football players. It’s still not well understood how and when this condition begins.
Looking for Signs of Brain Injuries in Children
The BIAA lists the many signs of traumatic brain injury that parents can reference if they believe their children have suffered a TBI. The BIAA says that symptoms can include:
- Physical Impairment – speech, vision, balance, fatigue, coordination, seizures, etc.
- Cognitive Impairment – memory loss, reading or comprehension difficulties, impaired concentration, etc.
- Emotional Impairment – depression, anxiety, mood swings, difficulty controlling emotions, etc.
The BIAA also suggests that parents exercise caution and plan for the child’s return to school. Many of the changes children experience in the wake of a TBI can impact their ability to concentrate in the classroom and might also affect how they interact with teachers and fellow students. Make sure your child and their teachers are aware of the some of the challenges they might face.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
Children rely on adults to keep them safe. Infants are completely dependent on adults for care, and even as children grow and become more independent, they still need guidance and protection from adults. While TBI in children may occur due to a freak accident, adult negligence is often a factor.
A sports coach who ignores signs of concussion in a student athlete, an abusive caregiver – or even a parent who endangers children by driving recklessly – should be held accountable if their behavior results in a child’s TBI. If your child has suffered a TBI, talk to one of the experienced personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman. Request your free, no-obligation consultation online, or by calling 1-800-LAW-6600.