8 symptoms your child is suffering from traumatic brain injury

Plus, how to recognise the signs and rehabilitate

By Zemer Wang

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Published: Thu 30 May 2024, 6:52 PM

The early years of development are crucial for children as they embark on a critical learning phase, laying the foundation for their future health and well-being. Given the ongoing growth and maturation of their brains, nurturing and optimising their physical and cognitive health is essential.

However, life is unpredictable, and accidents can sometimes have profound consequences. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can drastically alter the trajectory of a child's life, bringing with it a range of physical, emotional, and psychological challenges that are often difficult for families to understand and treat.

Examples of incidents with children that might lead to a potential traumatic brain injury include:

- Falling off a swing or slide

- Falling off a bicycle while not wearing a helmet

- Injuries related to contact sports such as football, rugby, and martial arts

- Motor vehicle accidents

- Child abuse incidents

Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI can have devastating effects on individuals of all ages, but children are particularly vulnerable due to the early neurological formations occurring throughout the brain. The impact of TBI evolves as the child's brain matures. While brain plasticity can aid in skill recovery and compensation, the true implications of the injury can become more evident as the child grows older, often presenting as emotional and cognitive delays later in life.

Beyond physical and cognitive impairments, children who suffer from TBI frequently experience psychological and emotional issues that significantly affect their quality of life and future development. These emotional problems can manifest as early as days after the injury but may progress over months and persist long after the initial trauma.

Emotional Problems Associated with TBI in Children and Youth

- Headaches

- Depression

- Anxiety

- Irritability and Mood Swings

- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

- Personality Changes

- Cognitive Changes

- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Treating Symptoms

One of the significant challenges in managing emotional and psychological problems related to TBI in children is the delay between the acute incident and the onset of symptoms. Brain imaging methods routinely performed in the emergency room after TBI (CT or MRI) primarily examine brain structure and cannot yet identify any metabolic dysfunction that may persist many weeks after the injury.

This limitation can lead clinicians to overlook the association between TBI and the onset of new emotional and psychological symptoms. This was evident in a recent randomised controlled study of children admitted to the emergency room and followed up for TBI-related symptoms.

Identifying the root cause of these symptoms enables us to provide better, more focused medical care to those affected. In medicine, accurate diagnosis is key to providing appropriate treatment and support. Healthcare providers must consider the possibility of TBI when evaluating a child’s emotional and behavioural symptoms, especially if there is a history of head injury and the symptoms are new.

Holistic Assessment

Treatment and rehabilitation protocols may include a combination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cognitive training, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and dietary coaching. These interventions aim to restore regular brain functions, alleviate symptoms, and enhance the quality of life for children and their families.

Supported by over a decade of scientific research, this holistic approach has facilitated the recovery of numerous children from TBI symptoms, enabling them to resume their happy childhoods unhindered. By acknowledging the broad spectrum of emotional problems associated with TBI and ensuring accurate diagnosis and comprehensive treatment, we can better support affected children and help them develop and lead fulfilling lives.

Dr Zemer Wang is medical director, DP World's Aviv Clinics


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