Here’s a new finding regarding kids and head injury: Brain changes in children who’ve sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, last for months after that injury — even after the symptoms of the injury are gone, according to a study published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The takeaway is that it makes sense to use advanced imaging techniques to monitor the recovery of children following concussions, according to press release from the Society of Neuroscience.
Scientific studies on adults have found that concussions change the brain’s white matter — “the long fibers that carry information from one area of the brain to another,” the press release said. And recent research suggests that the brains of kids, which are still developing, are especially vulnerable to damage from TBI.
In the newest research, Andrew Mayer and his colleagues at the Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, studied older children, ages 10 to 17, with mild TBI. Their finding was that changes in the children’s white matter seen two weeks after the injury remained more than three months later — even though the symptoms were gone.
“These findings may have important implications about when it is truly safe for a child to resume physical activities that may produce a second concussion, potentially further injuring an already vulnerable brain,” Mayer said in a statement.
In the study researchers did cognitive testing and used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study the brains of 15 children who had recently (within 21 days of injury) experienced a concussion and 15 unaffected children. DTI specifically images white matter in the brain. During a follow-up visit approximately four months post-injury, scientists repeated cognitive testing and imaging.
Initial tests found that kids with mild TBI had “small cognitive deficits and changes in white matter compared with healthy counterparts,” the press release said. Even though the children didn’t report symptoms of the injury during the follow-up visit months later, the DTI determined that the structural brain changes remain.
“The magnitude of the white matter changes in children with mild traumatic brain injury was larger than what has been previously been reported for adult patients with mild traumatic brain injury,” Mayer said. “This suggests that developmental differences in the brain or the muscular-skeletal system may render pediatric patients more susceptible to injury.”
Based on the imaging data collected during the study, scientists were able to distinguish the brains of patients who had mild traumatic brain injury from those who were healthy 90 percent of the time.
“Such findings suggest DTI, which does not require the use of ionizing radiation, could one day be used to diagnose the injury and to better characterize the recovery process in the brain,” according to the press release.