Traumatic brain injury in children linked to learning difficulties

Traumatic brain injury in children linked to learning difficulties
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A new study finds that traumatic brain injury may reduce brain size and cause learning difficulties in children and teenagers.

Traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain caused by a trauma to the head. It can occur following road traffic incidents, assaults and falls and causes symptoms such as balance problems, headaches and memory problems.

Researchers have extensively studied traumatic brain injuries in adults, but this problem in children and teenagers is relatively untouched due to how quickly their brains grow and change. To address this research gap, a team of researchers from Imperial College London and  Great Ormond Street Hospital joined forces to understand traumatic brain injury in children.

The results are published in the journal Brain.

Studying traumatic brain injury in children

The researchers used MRI brain scans of over 1,200 healthy children and young people aged eight to 22 years to examine normal brain growth and development in different regions.

As a comparison, they compared the healthy brain scans to scans of 39 teenagers aged 12 to 16 years who suffered a moderate or severe brain injury in the previous months or years. The researchers tested for any cognitive difficulties by challenging participants with cognitive assessments.

Side effects vary from person to person

The results suggested that amongst the 39 teenagers with brain injury, 11 had a reduced volume in at least one area of white matter and seven had reduced volume in at least one region of grey matter in their brain.

The teenagers with the smaller brain volume showcased issues such as slower mental processing speed, learning difficulties, and higher levels of depression, apathy and anger compared to the healthy participants.

In some children without low brain volume, the parents also reported difficulties in everyday function.

Professor David Sharp, a study author from Imperial’s Department of Brain Sciences, added: “The effects of head injuries are complicated and vary from person to person. If we can get to a point where precision analysis of scans assists in routine clinical management, that could help us identify why some children and young people are at risk of learning or behavioural difficulties and provide them with additional support or rehabilitation.

“This is really important as difficulties experienced by young people can have lasting impacts on their education and subsequent opportunities in adult life.”

First author Dr Niall Bourke, formerly from Imperial College London’s Division of Brain Sciences and now based at King’s College London, said: “We know that some children and teenagers who suffer a traumatic brain injury can go on to experience learning or emotional difficulties, but at the moment we can’t predict who will have problems and who won’t. This often means that those children and teenagers who develop difficulties will be delayed in getting the early support they need.”



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