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Whether it is a mild concussion or a serious traumatic brain injury, hundreds of thousands of children face head injuries every year. A new study shows that the parenting they receive after the childhood brain injury could make a big difference in children’s long-term outcomes.
No parent wants to find out that their son or daughter has suffered a brain injury. But between falls, sports injuries, car accidents, and other blows to the head nearly 435,000 children and teens go to the emergency room for traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year. Of those injuries, almost 250,000 come from sports or recreational activities.
And that number isn’t going down. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of people under 19 diagnosed with a sports-related TBI rose 57%. That increase may be in part because parents and schools have become more aware of the need for prompt and complete TBI screening after a fall or collision.
A new study by scientists at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center shows that what happens after the injury can make a big difference in a child’s long-term outcomes. Researchers followed children for 7 years after they suffered a traumatic brain injury. Of those studied, children with mild to moderate brain injuries were twice as likely to develop attention problems, and five times as likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as their healthy counterparts.
The study showed that, among kids with childhood brain injury, good parenting helped them recover faster and avoid long-term deficits. The study found that even children with severe TBI showed few effects from their injuries if raised in optimal environments. Children with milder injuries who grew up in disadvantaged or chaotic homes often had more persistent problems.
Certain skills that affect social functioning played a particular role in the development of attention problems following a head injury. So the team has put together a web-based program that offers training to the families of childhood TBI victims. The program helps parents address problem-solving, communication, and self-regulation. Randomized trials of the program show a decrease in behavioral problems and an increase in executive cognitive functioning among older children.
The Cincinnati research team isn’t done yet. They plan to collect DNA samples from the over 330 children enrolled in the trial. They believe DNA could play a role in persistent post-TBI symptoms.
The study will also to continue to investigate the role of environmental factors including family and home environment, parenting styles, and socioeconomic status. They will also use neuroimaging techniques to evaluate treatments like aerobic exercise.
Much remains to be learned about childhood brain injury and what parents, and doctors, can do to minimize the long-term damage. But the good news is that engaged parents, and stable households, mean many children can move on from TBI to live full and healthy lives.