Age Differences Influence Concussion Impact

Concussions are one of the most commonly reported traumatic brain injuries in the United States. These injuries are often the result of motor vehicle accidents and sports-related incidents, and every person who sustains a concussion will have unique symptoms and experiences. Concussions also affect people of different ages in different ways. It’s crucial for everyone to understand the risks that accompany a concussion, and parents should know how to identify the symptoms of a concussion in a child.

How Does a Concussion Affect a Child?

Youth sports players are generally more likely to return to playing sports in a very short time compared to high school or college-age athletes. There are many possible reasons for this, but the most likely is that children do not know how to describe the symptoms of a concussion they may feel or may not realize that something is wrong. Concussions can take days or weeks for symptoms to improve, and a person who suffers a concussion is more susceptible to future concussions. This presents a significant danger to young children who unknowingly put themselves at risk for exacerbating a concussion or sustaining a second one.

The symptoms of a concussion can include:

  • Dizziness and disorientation
  • Amnesia or memory problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensory distortion or confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood swings and agitation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Personality changes
  • Excessive sleepiness or inability to sleep

Young children may not be able to articulate how they are feeling and may appear fine. This can lead to serious issues later in life including developmental delays and cognitive impairment if symptoms go unnoticed and unchecked for too long. Since children may not realize the severity of their symptoms and parents may not notice anything wrong, this leads to children not only suffering more significant effects from concussions but also resuming potentially dangerous activities sooner than older concussion victims.

Recovery From Concussions

Generally, the best treatment for a concussion is rest and avoiding strenuous activities or any activities that present a risk of sustaining another concussion. For example, a youth football player may suffer a concussion and feel ready to return to playing football the very next day. The parents may think that the child is simply resilient without realizing that he is at a significant risk of serious harm if he sustains another head injury. It’s also possible that an even milder blow to the head than the one that caused the original concussion can cause a second one due to the child’s increased vulnerability.

A concussion early in life also creates a longer window of vulnerability, so children who suffer concussions at young ages are more likely to sustain more concussions later in life. They also face a risk of enhanced or additional symptoms with a second or third concussion. Over time, repeat concussions can cause permanent damage.

Although children don’t necessarily require a longer recovery time from concussions than older people, parents should keep in mind that a child may appear perfectly fine while still experiencing the symptoms of a concussion without realizing it. Parents should arrange for a neurological examination after a child sustains a concussion and carefully follow-up with the child’s doctor. A doctor may also order imaging tests or other procedures to fully assess a concussed child’s condition and prognosis.

A doctor may order a child who suffered a concussion to limit strenuous activity and refrain from participating in contact sports or other physical activities for an extended time. Other activities like playing video games, watching television, reading, or doing schoolwork may also worsen concussion symptoms, so a doctor may order lightened schoolwork days or recommend half days until the child’s condition improves. Ultimately, there is no single answer for handling a child’s concussion, so parents must be extremely cautious and vigilant after a child sustains such an injury.