Well-Meaning Parents May Be Making Their Child’s Brain Injury Worse


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Across the country, parents are starting to take concussions seriously. Unlike in the past where “getting your bell rung” was brushed off as a minor injury like a bruise or sore muscle, parents are increasingly having their concussed children assessed by doctors and taking steps to try to aid their child’s recovery.

Unfortunately, many of these parents may be going too far or using outdated understandings about concussions that are actually slowing their own child’s recovery or even making their symptoms worse.

The results of a recent survey from researchers at the University of California Los Angeles show well-intentioned parents are often restricting their children’s activity too much following a concussion and slowing the brain’s healing process.

“In the past, there was often a tendency to downplay the significance of concussions,” said Christopher Giza, a pediatric neurologist at UCLA. “Now some parents go too far the other direction and, despite their best intentions, they can inadvertently complicate their child’s recovery.”

The team of researchers surveyed 569 parents about how they would care for a child presenting concussion symptoms lasting more than a week.

According to the findings, over three-quarters of American parents said they would likely wake a concussed child multiple times throughout a night to check on them, likely fueled by old misconceptions that letting a child with a concussion sleep uninterrupted could lead to further damage. However, doing this actually prevents the brain from properly healing.

“Their headache is going to be worse. Their memory’s going to be worse. Their mood’s going to be worse,” Giza said. “All those things that we monitor for concussion will get worse if we don’t let them sleep.”

Similarly, 84% of parents said they would make their child avoid all physical activity to prevent the risk of further injury. While preventing a child from participating in high-risk sports like football following a concussion is the proper response, cutting out all physical activity can do more harm than good.

“We certainly don’t want them to go back to playing contact sports right away, but gentle aerobic exercise like walking the dog, easy hiking or riding a stationary bicycle is actually good for them,” Giza said in a press release. “Being active can help children improve their mood, take their mind off their symptoms and restore a sense of normalcy.”

The survey also found that the majority of parents (64%) would likely take away or restrict a child’s access to social media or smartphone use while concussion symptoms persisted.

While this may sound like a good idea, especially considering light sensitivity is tied to increased headaches following a concussion, the effect of isolating a child from their social circle is more problematic than the use of social media or mobile devices. Isolating a child in recovery from their friends can lead to depression, anxiety, and loss of appetite during a vulnerable time.

Instead, Giza encourages parents to find a balance and look for “the sweet spot for that level of activity that doesn’t make their symptoms tremendously worse but reassures them and moves them along the path to normalcy.”

Concussions are a serious health issue and it is encouraging to see parents taking serious steps to respond to brain injuries. However, it is important to be aware of the latest recommendations for a faster recovery and better outcome. Sleep, light physical activity, and a gradual return to normal life are all important factors in leading to a better recovery.

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