Long-term dangers of pediatric concussion/brain injury

Football less dangerous for kids?

The Concussion Blog has another thought-provoking post about an announcement made by Dr. Howard Derman, co-director of the vanguard Methodist Hospital Concussion Center that children’s brains are (apparently?) better able to tolerate the effects of concussion. From what I read — also in the orginal article at Beyond Chron — the plasticity of a kid’s brain, along with its greater amount of room to handle swelling, makes (football-related) concussions “less of a concern” for children.

“I’m not saying it’s safer to play football as a child,” said Dr. … Derman,… “but the plasticity – flexibility, in layman’s terms – in the brain is greater in a child, and it has more room to swell. So things we see in adult football players are slightly less of a concern in children. That’s just a statement of fact.”

Okay, so let’s assume that the doctor has his facts right, which is up for dispute by a number of truly independent writers and investigative journalists. Even if a kid’s brain is more resilient (and I’m not agreeing that this helps), another fact to be taken into consideration is that having a concussion makes you more susceptible to having others. And speaking from experience, the cumulative effects of childhood concussion into adulthood (which brought with it yet more concussions/tbi’s), can wreak havoc long after the initial injury was sustained.

What concerns me about this statement — aside from the fact that it was made by a physician with ties to professional sports teams, whose word is probably taken as gospel in certain circles — is that it treats childhood concussion/brain injury as an isolated incident that you really don’t need to worry about, because, well — as so many people have said over the years — chances are everything will clear up and things will go back to normal.

I truly wish I could say that was true for me, but from where I’m sitting, those supposedly harmless blows to my head when I was younger, led to more supposedly harmless blows… which ended up sidelining me not only from games, but from the game of life.

And this was some 30 years after my first concussion — the first of many, which had cumulative effects over time.

Where does that leave me? Still working to pick up the pieces, still trying to avoid meltdowns, still trying to keep my act together at work, still hassling with light and sound sensitivity, as well as continuous fatigue. I won’t say “chronic fatigue” because chronic implies that it comes and goes indefinitely. With me the fatigue just never goes away. Oh, well.

And where does that leave the people around me? Stressed out for reasons they don’t fully understand, and scratching their heads wondering WTF?! when I do something truly boneheaded.

And where does that leave my community? Well, my immediate community as well as my country, have lost about 40% of my original tax revenues since late 2004, when I left a good job because I just couldn’t hang in there after my last TBI. Say what you will about the individual being responsible for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Thanks to (undiagnosed and underestimated) TBI, my employment situation is at 60% of what it should be. And in the past seven years, the loss in tax revenue is thus equal to about three years of full-employment tax revenue. By the time I stop working (if I ever do), thanks to the TBI-related gaps in my employment history, the lost tax revenues will probably be equivalent to me retiring and no longer contributing to the collective kitty at least 10 years early. If not more. Can the government afford this? I’m not sure — especially considering that I was born at the tail-end of the Baby Boom, and it’s my tax dollars which will be buoying up the aging generation of retirees right before me, as the younger generation struggles to just pay off their credit cards and student loan bills.

It’s tax time, and I’m hassling through yet another data collection process — which is so much harder than it used to be, even though my taxes are significantly less complicated than seven years ago. In the process, I’m thinking about the effects of my injury on my tax rate. And while I don’t really chafe at how much money the government is scooping out of my pay (so long as I can just live my life and I’m not being totally flayed), if Uncle Sam did the math on how much revenue is lost to TBI each year, thanks to fully employed people becoming under-employed (or un-employed), I’m guessing they might take it a little more seriously.

Seriously, we live in expensive times, and I’m willing to help pay for roads and schools and infrastructure and War on Terror and national parks and all the things we tend to happily take for granted. Somebody’s got to. But it’s difficult to really contribute when you’ve got this whole… deal going on. And it’s difficult to take seriously a prominent doctor who claims that a contact/collision sport like football poses less of a problem to kids than to full-grown adults. Especially when I look at the long-term effects that one seemingly innocuous concussion after another can — and in my case, did — have on a young brain, and a young life.

So, in the end, it’s caveat emptor as usual. Be smart. Consider the sources, and draw your own conclusions. And remember, just because you have “M.D.” after your name doesn’t make you the ultimate authority… even in your chosen field.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

8 thoughts on “Long-term dangers of pediatric concussion/brain injury”

  1. BB –

    I admittedly don’t know the context of the whole comment but a couple of thoughts

    1. Children s brain ARE more flexible – they are still being formed – up until mid to late 20’s neuronal development is occuring (not neuroplasticity or regeneration but the regular development).. So minor injuries – WHEN ADDRESSED APPROPRIATELY – have a better chance of not being lasting.

    2. Most kids bonk their heads in some fashion – sports or not – and so its reassuring to parents to think that every bonk doesn’t mean their kids is disabled for life. They need to understand the difference. Even a concussion does not mean a lifetime brain injury. Plenty of people (the majority) recover from concussions just fine.

    3 Having said that – yes, pediatric brain injury can be insidious and have life altering effects BECAUSE of the above – it gets seen as less important, less significant – and thus allows people to set their kids up for repeated instances or to not take it seriously. And, even with kids who are still developing circuitry as they get older the growth rate slows – so there is more risk.

    Its hard to know sometimes where the line is


  2. Cumulative effects are very real! It’s time even children’s brains are taken seriously and not just blown off as “they’ll be just fine”! These children and our future will continue to get up and brush themselves off. Let’s take care of them! These children may struggle and compensate the way they know how…until just one more injury! When they no longer can…usually when they are adults!


  3. I am really touched by your story. I seem to be having the same problem. I am 17 years old boy. I had my first concussion on Dec. 17 2011 . The doctors and neurosurgeons at home and abroad all dismissed my case as a minor problem. I kept coming for help with my situation that the doctors sent me away. Today I still suffer from PCS and have been out of school and life generally since then. I feel lost because I can’t fit in with others, I cannot play and enjoy my life like I used to. I cannot cope with school work and strenuous physical activity which I could do easily is now like a death sentence. My personality has changed. I felt happy to read this post and for the first time admit that these doctors are wrong in their diagnosis of concussions. I think it’s a challenge to the future medical practitioners to go into research om brain health. From my experience very little is known. What may seem like a common problem is actually very serious. I don’t go to the doctors anymore on this issue as I’m already used to my new life and do not need their diagnosis. Basically, they can’t help you. Today, I can only hope that I can go to university by God’s grace and hopefully make a living. If doctors cannot help, I can only turn to God the greatest of all physicians.


  4. I’m very sorry to hear about your experience. Dealing with doctors who do not know or understand — and there are so many, all over the world — can be very disheartening. But you had your concussion less than a year ago, so please understand it is still fairly “recent” and these things take time. You cannot rush this. At the same time, it is NOT a death sentence. It may feel that way, but it is not. It is something you need to handle, like you would handle a flood that wiped out your home, or a hurricane that blew down your house. You need to rebuild, and just as you would rebuild carefully after a great storm — you need to find out what parts of the house are still sound, and what parts of the ground are still stable — you need to rebuild carefully after concussion. There are a lot of things you used to do easily which may now feel so hard, because your brain is re-learning to do them. This is not cause for despair, it is cause for hope. We need to relearn how to do things that were once very easy for us, and although it can feel like a terrible burden, the fact is that we are still alive, we are still learning, and as long as we don’t give up, there is always hope.


  5. I had a fall from a grocery cart in 1972 when I was under 2 years old, went unconscious and spent a week in the hospital. Growing up, I knew this as an even in the past, but it was never given any thought when I struggled in school. Six years ago I was tested for ADD, not even considering I survived a T.B.I, which revealed impaired processing speed and distractibility. There have been and continue to be so many other things which are impacted, but have never been able to muster the courage to reach out for help. It’s a real problem.


  6. Hey Mark,

    Yes, it certainly can be a real problem. It’s amazing how this was under the radar, back then. I started having TBIs in the late 60s / early 70s, and nobody ever made any noise about it. Maybe people just thought that’s what happens when you’re a kid? I dunno. Anyway, it’s never too late to find new strategies for handling the challenges that go along with this. There are plenty of people who discover this issue in their lives, much later on, then go on to develop some real strategies to address persistent issues. I can tell you, my own life has changed dramatically thanks to just having the right information. You may want to look up a neuropsychologist who can help you sort things out. I found mine through the local Brain Injury Association chapter. There are plenty of people out there who understand, and you just might be able to find the help you need.

    Good luck to you!


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