Heads up: Take childhood brain injuries seriously

Column by Dr. Peter Thompson

By Peter Thompson; Lead Psychologist, Douglas County School District
Posted

The national statistics on pediatric brain injuries are nothing short of alarming. Roughly 2 percent to 4 percent of the child population will have a head injury every year. To put the previous statistic in perspective, it is expected that schools of 1000 students will annually have 40 students sustaining a head injury. At the middle school I service, we typically have about 60 head injuries a year and this number has been consistent for a very long time. The point here is that head injuries in children are widespread and we need to take them very seriously as a major public health issue.

The type of head injury that I see most often are called concussions. It is important to remember that a “concussion” is classified as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Of all the major school districts in Colorado, Douglas County School District is fortunate to have one of the most effective brain injury teams and multifaceted processes to help children if they have a concussion. The director of health services, Paulette Joswick, helped create DCSD’s TBI team about 8 years ago. Joswick has expertly trained all her nurses to identify, treat, and skillfully manage brain injuries.

Although school staff across Colorado are becoming more skilled in the area of head injury care, the cooperation of parents is critical to help students recover properly. If your child has a concussion, or has a more significant brain injury, it is helpful to follow these suggestions:

1. Remember that the vast majority of concussions will fully recover, but it may take up to 21 days or more. The amount of time necessary for children to recover is significantly more than once thought. Parents must understand the expected time frame for a full recovery and not try to push a child to recover too quickly.

2. Always seek professional medical care if your child has a head injury—don’t rely on internet information or a friendly neighbor for advice. Call a doctor or nurse—all head injuries MUST be taken seriously!

3. Students with head injuries are encouraged to rest both physically and cognitively for several days. After a concussion, injured DCSD students are kept from physical activities for 7 days from “last reported symptom” and they must be cleared by a doctor.

4. You absolutely must protect your child from having a second head injury while he or she is recovering from a first injury. Having two brain injuries in a short period of time may cause permanent damage or worse.

5. Students should not start academic work too soon after a head injury. Reading or writing too soon after an injury typically increases the recovery time. Students need several days of “complete” cognitive rest post-injury.

6. Limit the amount of TV and computer time for your child during the recovery period.

7. Make sure your child is eating, drinking and sleeping well. Sleeping difficulties are common after an injury, but often overlooked. Also, the brain needs an enormous amount of moisture and must be properly hydrated after an injury.

8. Report any increase in symptoms after the injury to a doctor, especially headaches. An increase in headaches may be extremely serious.

In short, head injuries in children, even small ones, must be taken seriously. Parents can no longer just say, “Oh it’s just a bump to the head.” It’s not just a bump to head, but also to a child’s brain. Do what is necessary to protect your child’s brain.