Even mild brain injuries may cause children to have momentary gaps in attention long after an accident occurs, according to a new study.
The study of 6- to 13-year-olds found these attention lapses led to lower behavior and intelligence ratings by their parents and teachers.
"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," said study researcher Marsh Konigs, a doctoral candidate at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
This loss of focus was apparent even when brain scans showed no obvious damage, the researchers said.
The study’s results are being released as schools gear up for a new academic year combined with some sports programs that can put children at risk for head injuries.
Traumatic brain injury can occur from a blow to the head caused by a fall, traffic accident, and assault or sports injury.
Concussion is one type of traumatic brain injury. In 2009, more than 248,000 teens and children were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries or concussions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s how the study was conducted. Researchers compared 113 children who had been hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury with 53 children who had a trauma injury not involving the head. The injuries, which ranged from mild to severe, occurred more than 18 months earlier on average.
The researchers tested mental functioning and evaluated questionnaires completed by parents and teachers at least two months after the injuries.
The head-injured group had slower processing speed, the researchers found. And their attention lapses were longer than those noted in the other children. But unlike other research, no differences were reported in other types of attention, such as executive attention -- the ability to resolve conflict between competing responses.
As is typical with most studies, the results do not prove a cause and effect relationship, but an association.
The take-home message from this study is that even mild head injury can lead to problems, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He was not involved with the research.
"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," Adesman said.
This research underscores the need to protect children from head injuries through proper supervision, consistent use of child car seats and seat belts, as well as headgear when bike riding and playing contact sports, he added.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
More information on brain injury in children can be found at the Brain Injury Association of America’s website, http://www.biausa.org/brain-injury-children.htm.
Source: Kathleen Doheny, http://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/brain-health-news-80/head-injury-may-trigger-attention-issues-in-kids-701821.html