Most people think that concussions are a short-term injury that is completely healed by the time symptoms fade away. But, a new Canadian study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows concussions can affect a child’s life for months, even when their symptoms subsided relatively shortly after the injury.
“While it has been long-understood that brain injuries may negatively impact quality-of-life (especially in those patients with severe injuries who have required surgery), we were surprised to see that the quality-of-life following concussion may have prolonged effects (3 months or more) on school even in those children who had recovered within one month,” said senior author Dr. Roger Zemeck of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa.
Zemeck went more into detail on the findings in an email to Reuters Health, saying, “Fortunately, most children recover fairly quickly following a concussion; only about 30 percent of children exhibit multiple symptoms lasting beyond one month from the time of their injury.”
For the study, Zemeck and his team of researchers assessed quality of life factors for approximately 2,000 children between the ages of 5 and 18, who had visited an emergency department within two days of suffering a concussion.
The team evaluated several symptoms related to physical, emotional, thinking, and sleep abilities four weeks after their injury, as well as eight and 12 weeks after. Those with three or more symptoms that had not subsided by the four-week assessment were diagnosed with “persistent postconcussion syndrome.”
In total, 510 children included into the study fell into this group.
Parents of children younger than eight were asked to complete the questionnaire for the study, while older children completed the survey themselves. The questions asked participants to rate aspects of quality of life, including physical, emotion, social, and school-related issues. Higher scores – out of a hundred – represent better quality of life.
Those with postconcussion syndrome scored 10 points lower in overall quality of life, scoring a mean of 70, while those with faster recoveries had a mean score of 80.3. These lower scores were persistent at eight and 12 weeks after injury, as well.
While those with long-lasting symptoms showed the largest reduction in quality of life, those with faster recoveries still averaged three to four points lower than typical scores for healthy children without a history of concussion. In particular, these children showed significant issues with school-related functioning.
“It is important to remember that by definition, a concussion is a brain injury, and the brain controls all aspects of life. Unfortunately, we still do not yet know what are the causes for why quality of life is impacted,” Zemeck said.
“Once we better understand why it happens, we can then formulate interventions in order to target these causes with the hope of improving outcomes for these youth,” he said.