Children Who Suffer Traumatic Brain Injury are More Likely to Develop ADHD or Other Long-Term Attention Problems
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows a link between ADHD or attention disorders in children and traumatic brain injury.
Even a minor brain injury like a concussion can increase a child’s likelihood of developing attention disorders, according to the study. Worse, effects may not be immediate, but could begin to show up long after the incident, according to study author Marsh Konigs, a doctoral student at VU University in Amsterdam. The impact overall could appear as “very short lapses in focus, causing children to be slower.”
The research team investigated 113 cases of head injuries in children, ages 6 to 13, ranging from mild concussions, to head injuries causing headaches and vomiting, to traumatic brain injuries severe enough to cause the child to pass out for 30 minutes. These cases were compared to a group of 53 children who experienced trauma that did not cause brain injury.
A year and a half after the children’s traumatic brain injuries, the researchers surveyed parents, caregivers, and teachers to discuss the children’s performances in school, attentiveness, emotional stability, and other indicators of their health. The children who suffered traumatic brain injuries were reported to have more lapses in attention, as well as mood problems including internalizing stress, anxiety, and slower processing of information.
While the group who suffered non-head trauma also displayed emotional instability and problems, the children who suffered traumatic brain injury were more likely to have a lower IQ, and potential long-term issues with epilepsy and vomiting.
Doctors have theorized secondary, later problems in children after suffering a traumatic brain injury, but this is the first study to look for a potential link between concussions and later mood and mental disorders.
“Parents, teachers and doctors should be aware that attention impairment after traumatic brain injury can manifest as very short lapses in focus, causing children to be slower,” Konigs said.
“This study provides further evidence of the importance of trying to minimize brain trauma, since even when there is no visible damage on CAT scans or MRIs, there can still be a significant adverse effect on attention span and behavior,” said Andrew Adesman, who heads the developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
“There is only so much parents can do to minimize risk of an injury but monitoring their child’s risk-taking behavior, modeling and teaching skills that reduce risk of an injury, using protective gear or devices, supervision, and monitoring of organized activities or sports for aggressive or risky coaching or competition are all helpful,” said Talin Babikian of the UCLA BrainSPORT Program in Los Angeles, California, who was not part of the new study.
“Our research did not investigate treatment options for lapses of attention, but other studies showed that stimulant treatment (methylphenidate) successfully reduce lapses of attention in children with ADHD and childhood cancer survivors, suggesting that this treatment could potentially reduce lapses of attention in children with TBI as well,” Konigs said.