They make tough decisions to ensure that their sons and daughters aren’t put in harm’s way. Just ask any parent who is considering whether or not their child should be able to play football.
It is one of any parent’s worst nightmares to picture their child becoming the victim of a traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s) are some of the worst injuries that a person can suffer, regardless of their age. However, in children, these injuries can have a profoundly detrimental impact on a brain that is still in the crucial stages of development.
While there is plenty that we don’t know about how brain injuries affect the brains of young people, there is a significant amount of research to confirm what worried parents already suspect. Even mild brain injuries, like concussions, may have a lasting impact on a child’s development. Perhaps of more immediate concern is the injury itself and what can happen right after a child suffers a brain injury.
What is a traumatic brain injury?
A TBI affects the function of the brain due to either a blow to the head or a penetrating injury. By definition, a TBI means that some form of dysfunction has been rendered by the impact. These injuries range from mild to severe.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a “mild” brain injury. Mild, however, doesn’t mean that the injury should be of little concern to parents. It can be the case that a concussion has very little lasting impact on a child, but it is also possible for a concussion to be a very serious injury. The occurrence of multiple concussions, no matter how small, can have a cumulative effect on a brain, especially in children.
How big is the problem of traumatic brain injuries among children?
TBIs are a major health concern for children. They are the leading cause of both death and disability among children. On average, TBI causes 2,685 deaths, 37,000 hospitalizations and over 400,000 emergency department visits among children ages 0 to 14 every single year. Children ages 0 to 4 and 15 to 19 have the highest risk of suffering a TBI. Over the period of 2001 to 2009, emergency department visits related to a TBI sustained in sports-related or recreational activities increased by 57 percent, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How children suffer traumatic brain injuries
A comprehensive study was conducted on the prevalence of TBI in the United States from 2006 to 2010. The results, cited by the CDC, give us insights into the reasons children suffer so many traumatic brain injuries every year. Over half of TBIs suffered among children ages 0 to 14 were caused by falls. Unintentional blunt trauma caused nearly one-fourth of TBIs among children under the age of 15. Motor vehicle accidents were the third leading cause of traumatic brain injuries in every age group, including children.
The same study tells us much about how fatal TBIs occur in children. For children ages 0 to 4, the leading cause of fatalities related to TBI happened as the result of assault. Vehicle accidents were the leading cause of TBI-related fatalities in people age 5 to 24.
As you see from these statistics, there are so many ways that a child can suffer a brain injury. Insulating your child from all the possible causes of traumatic brain injuries is not a realistic goal for most parents, but we can certainly make them safer by knowing the likely causes and acting accordingly. Perhaps just as important as preventing TBIs in our children, is identifying them when they occur.
Looking for signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury
If your child is involved in a fall, a sports-related injury or a motor vehicle accident, you should look for signs of a concussion or more serious form of traumatic brain injury. There are three ways in which a brain injury may be manifested – physically, cognitively, and emotionally.
- Physical signs of a brain injury – Problems with speech, vision, hearing, balance and coordination; the presence of nausea or vomiting, headaches, fatigue, paralysis and seizures
- Cognitive signs of traumatic brain injuries – difficulties with memory, speech, concentration, writing, reading
- Emotional signs of a traumatic brain injury – moodiness, depression, anxiety, restlessness or lack of motivation.
Protecting your child from traumatic brain injuries
- Vehicle safety: Make sure your children always wear seatbelts. Be vigilant about putting your children in size-appropriate child safety seats. Make sure these seats fit the size of your child and always register your child safety seat with the manufacturer so you’ll be notified of any recalls that might indicate an unsafe seat.
- Recreational activity and sports-related safety: Make sure your child wears a helmet when they are playing sports or riding bicycles. Choose a helmet that offers superior protection and fits appropriately on your child. If your child visits playgrounds, or if you have a play area at your own home, make sure that surfaces are shock-absorbent in case your child falls from a playground structure.
- Home safety: Make sure your windows are child-safe by installing guards that protect them from falling. Take similar precautions and install barriers around stairs or any other elevated surfaces. Remind your children never to crawl on top of stools or other tall surfaces that could topple over. Anchor all furniture or televisions in your home to ensure these objects don’t tip over.
Children who suffer brain injuries can be impacted in ways that will manifest themselves later in life. It is possible that a mild traumatic brain injury will lead to no further complications, but no parent wants to take that risk. The tips provided here are just a starting point. Look for more ways to make your child safer, and keep an eye out for signs of a brain injury if your child is hurt so you can seek immediate medical attention.
It’s tough being a parent. But knowing more about the dangers facing our children will make us better parents and help us keep our children safe from the hazards they might encounter.