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Child Head Injuries Can Have Lasting Effects

May 29, 2009

A new research review shows a blow to the head can affect a child’s mental functioning for years afterward, depending on how severely the brain is affected.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found in a review of 28 studies published in the last 20 years that children with mild brain injuries typically showed subtle effects that resolved with time.  Researchers Talin Babikian and Robert Asarnow reported in the journal Neuropsychology that with more severe injuries, however, the risk of lingering problems was significantly greater.

Their review found that children who’d suffered mild head injuries, compared with other children their age, showed small, and “frequently negligible” differences in attention, memory and verbal ability in the short term.  In the long term most children showed no significant effects.

However, there was no evidence that in younger children deficits in verbal skills sometimes lingered.

“The good news,” Babikian said in a UCLA news release, “is that the studies showed that children with mild traumatic brain injuries and concussions may show some difficulties in cognition initially, but the effects are subtle and typically diminish over time.”

The review found that for children who suffer moderate to severe brain injuries, the long-term outlook is not as good.

Children with moderate brain injuries typically lagged behind their peers in certain intellectual measures, in months after their injury, like brain processing speed, memory and problem solving.  The children generally showed some improvements two or more years later, but often still trailed other children their age.

The review found that the gaps with their peers often worsened over time for children with severe brain injuries.

Babikian said that that finding highlights the importance of “targeted treatment” for children with severe brain injuries.

She added that all of the findings underscore the importance of preventing head injuries in the first place through “consistent use of helmets and seatbelts.”  This is important for younger children’s brains that appear to be vulnerable to lasting damage.

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