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Teenage Brains May Heal Slower Than Adults After Concussions

Teenage concussions have been making news lately, whether as a result of car crashes or sports injuries. Now a new study is raising questions about how quickly teenage brains can recover from those brain injuries.

Dr. Naznin Virji-Babula, from the University of British Columbia, has been studying the effects of concussions on teenage brains.

“We don’t really understand the recovery after concussion… We do know that kids, especially, seem to take longer to recover than adults. Importantly, what’s the link between what we’re seeing at the brain level and what we see at the behavioural level?”

Using detailed MRIs, Dr. Virji-Babul has been able to see tiny tears in the brain itself which can affect structure and function. They actually change the way the teen brains process information.

This is contrary to the common assumption that kids are resilient and recover faster than adults with similar injuries. But the difference could be the fact that a teenage prefrontal cortex is still developing. Healthy teenagers are developing their higher-level cognitive functions like impulse control, decision making, and memory.

So how can parents reduce the risks of teenage concussions? Dr. Virji-Babul recommends schools develop a uniform concussion protocol for all contact sports. She is developing wireless sensors that can be installed in teens’ helmets to help coaches make the call when to pull kids out of the game.

Another recent study has a very different suggestion to reduce the risk of teenage brain injury: ADHD medications. Researchers in Germany identified over 37,000 children and teens with ADHD, and compared their medications and hospitalization rate. The survey suggested that when receiving either methylphenidate (such as Concerta) or atomoxetine (such as Strattera), there was a significant decrease in brain injury diagnoses:

“There was a nonsignificant risk reduction during the periods with medication for hospitalization with any injury diagnosis and a 34% risk reduction for hospitalization with brain injury diagnoses.”

Nothing in the study suggests that children without ADHD should receive medication to prevent brain injury, but it may point to a collateral benefit to the medication when children otherwise need it.

Dr. Virji-Babula’s study underscores the importance of preventing brain injuries among teenagers and children. Teens can suffer concussions as new drivers in auto accidents, and in contact sports in high school and college. Parents, doctors, and coaches need to be aware of the effect of injuries on the developing teenage brain and give special attention to detect and treat concussions early.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He and his team help the victim of brain injury accidents get the benefits they need to aid in their recovery. If you know someone who has suffered a brain injury as a result of a car accident, contact Christensen Law for a free consultation today.