DEC 20, 2015 5:32 PM PST

Childhood Concussions Impair Brain Function for Next Two Years

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
Children commonly get concussions

Children commonly get concussions. Usually, those concussions happen while playing a sport. Concussions are caused by a blow to the head or body that quickly rock the brain inside the skull. They are frequently seen in football, soccer, and cheerleading. 

Kids don’t usually suffer permanent damage, but they do take longer to recover from concussions because their brains are still growing and developing. Now, a study shows that pre-adolescent children who suffer a sports-related concussion have impaired brain function for the next two years.

University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Charles Hillman and his team investigate the link between childhood concussions and brain function. Organized sports at all levels have established protocols to prevent and treat head injuries. Over a million brain injuries are treated annually in the U.S. The long-term effects of childhood concussions aren't well understood. Many claim that only a small percentage of children suffer from developmental deficits after a concussion. Other researchers claim children suffer long-term consequences following concussions. 

The study pool included 30 children between the ages of 8 to 10. The children were all active in sports. Half of the children were recruited following a sports-related concussion. The other half had never endured a concussion. 

The team analyzed electrical signals in the kids' brains while they took cognitive tests. The test assessed the children's working memory, attentiveness, and impulse control. The researchers took the electrical signals into consideration when measuring how the children did on their tests.

The children who experienced concussions performed worse on the tests. Their brains also showed different electrical signals than the healthy brains. The children who were injured earlier in life had the largest cognitive deficits, said study author and neuroscientist Robert Davis Moore. These children are the most likely to experience lifelong academic and vocational consequences. 

The data is an “important step towards understanding sustained changes in brain function and cognition that occur following childhood concussion,” said study author Charles Hillman, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois. "Our study suggests the need to find ways to improve cognitive and brain health following a head injury, in an effort to improve lifelong brain health and effective functioning."

The results are published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.

Sources: Press release via EurekAlert!Seattle Children’s Hospital, Brain Injury Association of America,  
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
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