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Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - New research shows children who experienced concussions may need more time to heal before returning to school

New research shows children who experienced concussions may need more time to heal before returning to school

By Nirav K. Shah, M.D., F.A.C.S.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, every three minutes a young athlete from 7 to 19-years-old is taken to an emergency room for concussion treatment. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 accounted for almost 50 percent of those injured. One of the latest questions for researchers studying the short and long-term effects of concussions isn't when student-athletes can safely get back in the game but, more importantly, how long to wait before they can safely return to the classroom.

New research shows that the side effects from concussions can linger long after physical symptoms─dizziness, headaches and light sensitivity─have disappeared. Clinical findings also found that the mental exertion of normal routine classwork could actually worsen the effects of a concussion and impede successful recovery. The study found that the harder recovering students try to focus on any mental activity, the more severe resulting headaches or dizziness may become.

Why are concussions so serious?

Make no mistake ─ a concussion is an academic injury, in the sense that it is detrimental to the capacity for future learning. Many parents still don’t realize that children who have experienced concussions will have some degree of negative impact on their academic performance. Scientists studying the effects of concussions are challenged by the fact that not all concussions affect the brain the same way. Further, a child who bumps her head on the door is not the same as someone who hits her head diving for a soccer ball.

The cognitive effects of a blow to the head can temporarily make focusing on studies, taking tests or listening in classrooms more difficult. Concussion-related memory problems, mental sluggishness and inability to focus can affect grades, standardized test scores and classroom placement.  New research suggests the younger the injured athlete, the more long-lasting the cognitive effects from the concussion. Teens, for instance, are more vulnerable than adults to lingering effects of a concussion on short-term memory.

What can we do to protect our children?

New Jersey's youth sports concussion safety law went into effect in December 2010 and is administered by the state Department of Education. It includes a model concussion policy which includes first-in-the-nation recommendations that require all student-athletes be provided academic accommodations when returning to the classroom.

With the expanded concentration on the study and treatment of concussions, we now have vastly improved tools and understanding to help younger patients return to normal brain function even after the brain has been compromised. As neurologists, our ultimate goal is to restore the child’s ability to pursue normal social, emotional and intellectual pursuits with renewed vigor and enjoyment. To learn more about concussions, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers helpful information on their website at cdc.gov/concussion.

CentraState Medical Center in Freehold treats more than 2,000 head injuries each year. A multidisciplinary team of neurologists, sports medicine specialists and physical therapists specializing in head injury and concussion rehabilitation are available to treat patients as young as 10-years-old. The hospital now offers ImPACT baseline cognitive testing to identify and begin treatment of concussions faster and more effectively. To learn more, call 866-CENTRA7 (236-8727) or visit centrastate.com.

On October 30, from 5 to 8 p.m., CentraState Medical Center is hosting a Neuro Wellness event at its Star and Barry Tobias Ambulatory Campus. The free event will feature lectures about brain-related injuries and illnesses presented by clinical experts. A concussion lecture with Dr. Nirav K. Shah will be offered at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call (732) 308-0570 or visit centrastate.com/healthprograms.

Dr. Nirav K. Shah is a board-certified neurosurgeon and spine surgeon on staff at CentraState Medical Center. His areas of expertise include complex spinal surgery, intracranial tumor radiosurgery and concussion therapy. He has presented clinical research findings on the long-term effects of concussion at numerous symposiums and has been published in several peer-reviewed medical journals. Dr. Shah can be reached at Princeton Brain and Spine Center by calling (732) 333-8702.