Effects of brain injury on the developing brain

Written by: Dale Orlando

Tragically, children and youth make up a large percentage of those who suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in North America. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the two age groups at greatest risk for TBI are 0-4 and 15-19.  Suffering a brain injury during the developmental period presents unique challenges and can have serious, long-term consequences on brain development.

There is a common misconception that children can recover from brain injuries faster because of their higher brain plasticity. However, recent research from the Brain Injury Association of America disproves that. TBI in children alters the course of brain development, which can cause cognitive and physical symptoms that persist throughout their lives. Often, these symptoms are not visible right away; they only become evident as the individual grows and must use more complex thinking and social behaviour.

Another challenge of childhood brain injury is that it is difficult to diagnose. Injuries such as concussions are diagnosed and treated based on the symptoms that a patient experiences and describes. Children, however, cannot verbalize their symptoms. It is important, therefore, for parents to be able to recognize the common symptoms of a brain injury.

Brain injury symptoms fall into three categories: physical impairments, cognitive impairments and emotional impairments.

Physical effects of brain injury:

  • speech impairment
  • vision impairment
  • hearing impairment
  • headaches
  • motor impairment
  • trouble with balance

Cognitive effects of brain injury:

  • short-term memory deficit
  • impaired concentration
  • slowed thinking
  • problems with planning, reading and judgment
  • impaired communication

Emotional effects of brain injury:

  • mood swings
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • lowered self-esteem
  • restlessness
  • lack of motivation

Parents should monitor their child’s behavior after an injury and seek out medical care if he or she demonstrates any of the above symptoms, or if they suspect that a brain injury has been sustained.

Dale Orlando


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