Concussions are serious at any age, but it appears that in the undeveloped brains of children and teens they are particularly damaging. We are only beginning to understand these impacts as the number and length of studies increases.
Long term impacts of concussions suffered by children and teens can include physical, cognitive and mental health problems. These deficits can extend throughout adulthood, and of course the risks of serious long term problems increase with the number of concussions sustained. It appears that the number of concussions is on the rise, and in fact, in America Blue Cross Blue Shield reported that the number of reported concussions sustained by those under 20 years old increased 71% in the five years from 2010-2015. York University also published a study citing ‘significant’ increases in the rate of concussion in Ontario children and youth during the same period. This rapid increase may have many causes of course, one of them being that there is heightened awareness of concussions and therefore the kids are being taken to the hospital/doctor more often and are being diagnosed more effectively.
A real concern with this increase though is that kids are suffering more concussions than they used to. If this is the case, then we have to wonder why. The York University study found that falls were the most common cause of pediatric concussion reported in the emergency department. Many of the falls were result of hockey, skating, cycling, and skiing which are all very common sports in Canada. The report authors concluded that,
“Our findings reinforced that falls in general are the most common cause of pediatric concussions, and that evidence-based prevention initiatives to help reduce the incidence of concussion are warranted – particularly in sports and recreation programs,” says senior scientist and chief science officer at ICES, Dr. Astrid Guttmann, the study’s senior author. “Sports-related concussions can be minimized by taking preventive action, such as reducing body checking in hockey or wearing a helmet while cycling.”
Until recently however, the health implications of concussion into adulthood remained unknown. This is changing though with the recent release based on Swedish data. The report Long-term Outcomes Associated with Traumatic Brain Injury in Childhood and Adolescence: A Nationwide Swedish Cohort Study of a Wide Range of Medical and Social Outcomes, found that,
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of disability and mortality in children and young adults worldwide… TBI exposure was associated with elevated risks of impaired adult functioning across all outcome measures. After a median follow-up period of 8 y from age 26 y, we found that TBI contributed to absolute risks of over 10% for specialist diagnoses of psychiatric disorders and low educational attainment, approximately 5% for disability pension, and 2% for premature mortality.
The Swedish study also found some other unsettling facts. Those with only one concussion were:
twice as likely to die prematurely than their uninjured siblings
much more likely to have sought mental health care
much less likely to have graduated from high school or attend college