Concern about short and long term effects of concussions continues to grow across the nation. Concussions are a traumatic brain injury that can leave possible long term effects. Concussions can leave a significant impact on people, but especially on teenagers’ brains. Recent studies show that concussions can impede students and athletes’ academic performance.
Dr. Frances E. Jensen
The teenage brain has marveled, perplexed and frustrated parents and adults for years. Parents often question what could possibly be running through their teenager’s brain when they make certain decisions. On the flip side, teens feel like parents "just don’t understand" when it comes to their lives.
The fact is, the teenage brain is still developing during the adolescent phase.
"The brain is the last organ to mature. The brain does not stop maturing until mid to late twenties." said Dr. Frances E. Jensen, a Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Senior Associate in Neurology at Children’s Hospital in Boston. She also is an internationally-known expert in neurology and the teenage brain
Jensen says concussions can be more dangerous for teenagers because their brain structure is not as strong as an adult’s and is still building myelin. Myelin is a protective coating around the central and peripheral nervous system.
The National Federation of State High School Associations defines a concussion as a brain injury that results in a temporary disruption of normal brain functions. A concussion occurs when the brain is violently rocked back and forth or twisted inside the skull as a result of a blow to the head or body.
"The injuries from the impact is coming from inside the skull, not outside the skull," Dr. Jensen explained.
Concussions in the Classroom
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion can affect a student’s ability to participate, learn and perform well in school. The experience of learning and engaging in academic activities that require concentration can actually cause a student’s concussion symptoms to reappear or worsen.
Back in May 2015, researchers from the Children's National Health System, George Washington University School of Medicine and Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University studied 349 students, ages 5 to 18 to find out what happened to their academic performance after concussions.
The study found that the severity of the concussion symptoms was directly related to the degree of academic problems among all grade levels. Eighty-eight percent of the children who were not fully recovered still had problems with concentration, headaches and fatigue. Seventy-seven percent of those same children had problems taking notes and found themselves spending more time on homework and having problems studying for exams and quizzes. High school students reported having the most learning problems, significantly more than middle or elementary school children.
"If you have a concussion, your ability to reason, think or process information is negatively impacted," said West Virginia senator Ron Stollings.
Stollings responded to the issue of teenage concussions stemming from high school athletics by spearheading the passage of a bill in 2013 that mandates that all coaches and trainers have concussion training on a yearly basis. The bill also includes a "return-to-play protocol," which sets guidelines for when a player can return to action after sustaining a concussion.
Stollings believes the bill is as strong as legislators could make it, but he worries players can get around the protocol by lying about their symptoms.
"From a legislative stand point, we thought it was as strong as we could do," Stollings said. "The issue usually has to do with the player. They’re tough and they want to get back in there and play."
When it comes to returning to the field, the return-to-play protocol says a health care professional must make the decision about a student’s readiness to return based on the number, type and severity of symptoms the student experiences. The health care professional should also offer guidance about appropriate levels of cognitive and physical activity.
Dr. Jensen said new questionnaires exists to help health care professionals.
"Players fill out a quick questionnaire that looks at their focus and ability to calculate things, just basic mental skills," Jensen said. "Then if they have a concussion, you can retest them before you let them return to the field."
West Virginia’s return-to-play protocol also says that when a student returns to school after a concussion, their actions and behaviors should be monitored. If the student shows cognitive difficulties compared to pre-injury, teachers should accommodate that student by reducing assignment load or increase time for the student to complete assignments.
As a parent, you can notice symptoms of concussions when your child moves clumsily, answers questions slow, loses consciousness or even shows mood or personality changes. Symptoms include, headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to light or noise and concentration problems along with feeling sluggish or dizzy.