Behavior problems and concussion in young children

Concussions are a major public health problem because of their high number in adolescents and athletes who practice contact sports. Their frequency is increased in preschool children since they have a more blurred notion of danger and are therefore more likely to be injured.

A study led by researchers at the CHU Sainte-Justine, affiliated with the University of Montreal, and recently published in the journal Psychological Medicine, shows that, even months after having suffered a traumatic brain injury, children aged 0 to 5 years have behavioral problems.

"Even in its mildest form, a concussion early in the child's life can cause brain disruption resulting in behavioral changes that can persist for up to six months after the injury. The young brain is still immature and in full development, which makes it very vulnerable to shocks, "says Miriam Beauchamp, researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine, professor of psychology at the University of Montreal and lead author of the study. This research follows earlier work in the Journal of Neuropsychology, which revealed the adverse effects of an early concussion on the quality of parent-child interpersonal relationships.

To determine the harmful consequences of concussions in young children, Miriam Beauchamp's laboratory conducted a study in more than 200 children whose goal was to assess the presence of behavioral problems six months after head trauma. "We asked mothers to complete a questionnaire to document a variety of problematic behaviors in their child, manifesting themselves either in a more internalized way, such as anxiety or sadness, or in a more outward-looking way, such as anger or aggression," says Charlotte Gagner, a doctoral student at the Université de Montréal and the first author of the study. Results show that mothers of children with concussions report more behavioral problems, whether expressed or not, than mothers of children who have not been injured or have suffered a injury elsewhere.

These results suggest that head trauma, even if described as "mild," leads to brain injuries that make the child more vulnerable to anxiety or anger, for example. "We also believe that mothers whose child has suffered a shock to the head are more concerned and therefore detect more easily subtle behavioral changes that may have gone unnoticed," adds Charlotte Gagner. Interestingly, there is a strong correlation between children with more behavioral problems and parents who describe themselves as being more stressed. This highlights the importance for parents to take care of their psychological health, in this case to reduce the sources of stress,

"It remains to be seen whether these behavioral problems will diminish over time or, conversely, whether they will persist or worsen. With this in mind, we continue our study by re-evaluating the same group of children 18 and 30 months after the accident. In addition, we try to find out if the perception of the father differs from that of the mother for the same types of behavior problems in their child," concludes Miriam Beauchamp.

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Article reposted with permission from the Université de Montréal.