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Athletic Youth Concussions and Academic Performance: New Research

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 4-Jun-2015

For the last several years, concussions and the overall effects they can have on a person's health have dominated news headlines. As we have written in earlier posts, the issue is becoming more significant. With prominent athletes and doctors working to raise awareness, the public is more informed than ever before about the potential risks associated with concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

However, the effect of concussions in relation to youth and academic performance is a relatively new field of research, leaving many parents confused about how to approach youth athletics.

Parents have been stuck with questions that haven't had clear answers:

"Will concussions negatively impact my child's schoolwork?"

"How long do the effects last?”

“Can my child continue playing the sport?"

"Do concussions affect some children more than others?"

"What precautions should I be taking?"

A potentially game-changing new study recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics aims to address many of these questions.

In a sample of 349 students (ages 5 to 18) who had suffered concussions, it was found that among symptomatic students whose parents had expressed concern over their academic performance, a statistically significant number reported a "higher levels of concern for the impact of concussion on school performance...and more school related problems" than their recovered peers. These effects were compounded in high school students, with this age group reporting "significantly more adverse academic effects than their younger counterparts." Perhaps most importantly, it was found that "greater severity of post-concussion symptoms was associated with more school-related problems and worse academic effects, regardless of time since injury."

This study used CDC approved criteria to measure both the severity of concussions and formulate testing procedures. Parental concern levels were measured using questionnaires over a four week period.  All of the findings in this report were stated with 95-99.99% confidence, well surpassing the threshold to dismiss sample error.

The findings of this study highlight the need for greater safeguards against concussions and more comprehensive educational programs. Most importantly, this study lays the groundwork for more extensive studies that have a larger sample size, and provides the source material for future research areas. While this study may be the first of many, it is clear that its results should have dramatic effects on youth athletics. Parents need to make carefully weighted decisions about what sports their children participate in, and schools need to re-evaluate their precautionary methods. School policies must include standards not only for diagnosis, but also for recovery planning, including timetables for safe re-introductions to the playing field.

In the last few years, the number of diagnosed concussions in student athletes has skyrocketed. In a study published by The Ohio State University last year, results indicated that concussion rates of high school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012. "Overall, the rate increased from .23 to .51 concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures. An athlete exposure is defined as one athlete participating in one competition or practice."

Such a drastic increase reflects the added attention to concussions and concussion symptoms, but also to the effects and frequency of these injuries. Parents of young athletes need to be making informed decisions about their children and safety.

Joseph Rosenthal, one of the researchers from Ohio State's medical center, emphasized the following:

"A lot of injured athletes don't want to come out of games or stop practicing because they don't want to lose their position. But they can have symptoms that can last for an extended time period that can affect day-to-day life, school and personal relationships - they can experience irritability, pain, difficulty concentrating and sleep problems. Furthermore, if they continue to play while symptomatic, they are at risk for a second impact that can lead to severe disability and death. If you have symptoms, you've got to rest your brain and prevent further injury in order to recover."

Concussions are serious injuries. The effects of concussions are not limited to professional athletes. Only by having all the relevant information and taking appropriate safety precautions, can parents and athletes make informed decisions about youth athletics. For tips on how to protect your child, please read our previous discussion of concussions and youth sports.

Categories: Child Safety
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