New research reveals head injury in children has lasting impact


New research from the University of Warwick reveals that children with even mild head injury may be at risk of long-term complications, including personality changes, emotional, behavioural and learning problems.

The study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry examined more than 500 children aged 5-15 years at head injury over a 6-year period. Parents were asked to register what changes they noticed in their child after the head injury, and what follow-up they had received from clinicians. Even after a mild head injury, one in five children had a change in personality according to their parents.

Parents often described the personality change after the head injury as "like having a different child". Further, 43 percent of children with mild head injury had behavioural or learning problems that led to them being described as having a "moderate disability".

Overall around 30 percent of parents believed that their child's personality had changed as a result of the initial damage. Among children with more serious head injuries, about two thirds had moderate disability, and about half experienced a major change in personality after the head injury.

Dr Carol Hawley, from Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick, said: "Many children with mild injury do not receive routine follow-up after discharge home from hospital, yet a significant proportion of them do have some lasting problems which may affect their behaviour and ability to learn. This could put them at a disadvantage at school."

While all of the children in the study had been treated in a hospital after having a head injury, only 30 percent of parents said that doctors at the hospital had made a follow-up appointment for their child. In fact, 161 of the 252 children with moderate disability did not receive any follow-up care.

The study also suggests that there are there is inadequate provision for children with head injury, largely due to inadequate information. Teachers of only 40% of children were aware of the injury, and given the enduring nature of cognitive and behavioural problems following moderate or severe head injury, this is of concern.

Dr Carol Hawley continued: "It is likely that there are considerable numbers of children in the community, and back at school, who have suffered a head injury in the past and who might have subtle but important difficulties relating to that head injury."

To help identify children suffering from the lingering effects of a head injury, a research team is now working on a questionnaire that physicians could send to parents after children with head injury are sent home from the hospital. Children found to be at risk of problems could be offered a follow-up assessment. If necessary, children could be referred to an appropriate health professional, such as an educational psychologist or community paediatrician.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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