Concussions hit teens worse than adults, young children
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 10:21
Reposted from ottawacitizen.com
Teenagers between 13 and 16 years of age suffer greater effects from a concussion than younger children or adults, new Canadian research suggests.
As a result, far greater care needs to be taken with adolescents who show signs of being concussed, says Dave Ellemberg, a Universite de Montreal neuropsychologist who conducted a two-year study on the effects of concussions in young people.
This was the first study that compared children ages nine to 12, adolescents ages 13 to 16 and young adults in their early 20s specifically in terms of the effects of concussions.
The study looked at athletes involved in contact sports, such as soccer, hockey and football, half of whom had suffered a concussion half of whom had not.
"Concussions are as common in youth athletes as they are in adults. We think that about one in five athletes have a concussion per season," said Ellemberg.
The subjects were tested on average six months after having been diagnosed with a concussion, and the study made two important findings.
"The first is that children actually suffer the consequences of a concussion as much as adults do," said Ellemberg.
"We found that kids had deficits that were equal to those of adults. That is surprising because often parents and coaches believe that children can play through a concussion because it is believed that the younger brain is more resilient.
"The second finding is that adolescents are even more affected by the concussion than are the adults, so we found that the deficits measured are even bigger."
The athletes were tested in two ways, first with "neuropsychological tests that look at memory, working memory, attention, problem solving, and we found that when they performed these tests all groups had deficits with their working memory," said Ellemberg.
Working memory refers to short-term memory, such as language comprehension, reasoning and learning skills.
"The second thing that we did was measure the electrical activity of the brain, that is the responses of neurons while they were doing these tasks."
The findings revealed that working memory, most often controlled by the front part of the brain, is the same physical area hardest hit by injury.
"So we find that not only are the concussed less efficient on the tasks we assigned them, not only is their working memory not as good, but we see that the neuronal responses associated with working memory function are weaker. And these responses are even weaker in adolescents than they are in the adults or children."
A concussion's effects are measured by its impact and intensity and on whether the sufferer has had concussions in the past.
Once someone has suffered a concussion, they are five to seven times more likely to have another one and even a much milder blow can lead to a concussion.
While it was previously assumed a child's brain was better able to absorb head trauma, Ellemberg's study suggests otherwise and indicates that untreated concussions can cause peripheral problems, potentially leading to issues at school and in the youngsters' social lives.
One of the keys to improving treatment for young people is better education and quick action, he said.
"Superstar athletes get the attention, where as parents worry more about
Crosby's return to play than they do about their own kids who do have concussions every week. Parents and coaches have to know that concussions are real and they do have consequences that are grave and important for learning."
Despite the risks inherent to certain sports, Ellemberg said he's not trying to scare parents and kids away from sports.
"We want to educate people; we want to make people aware that there is a danger and to make sure that their kids do get the right diagnoses. But we do want people to practise sports. Practising a sport is important for a person's physical health, for their mental health, and for the health of a society."