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There’s a World of Difference between Adult and Child TBIs

Written by Tom Crosley
Brain Injuries, Catastrophic Personal Injury

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Photo credit: Liz Henry / Foter / CC BY-ND

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a serious medical issue, regardless of age. TBIs often occur when the brain collides with the skull after a blow to the head. The range of severity can vary, and different side effects can occur depending on the type of TBI, the nature of the injury, and the individual. There has been a recent influx of attention in the media about this issue, mainly regarding the NFL, but it’s a widespread health problem that can affect anyone.

However, there are major differences between adults and children when it comes to TBI. TBI is the leading cause of disability and death for children in the US, and the two age groups at greatest risk are 0-4 and 15-19. Young people are at greater risk of severe brain injuries because their developing brains are undergoing a complex and sensitive process of growth. A National Institutes of Health Project studied over a hundred young people as they grew by scanning the developing brain. This study revealed that even though the brain reaches approximately 90 percent of its full size by the time a person is six years old, there is a massive reorganization that occurs within the brain between ages 12 and 25.

During the brain’s development, the axons (neurons that send signals to other neurons) need time to develop myelin, which eventually boosts the transmission speed between neurons. At the same time, dendrites (branchlike extensions that neurons use to receive the signals from axons) grow and develop. This causes the brain’s cortex, where we do our complex and high-level thinking, to become more efficient.

Through imaging work and similar studies of young minds, it has become clear that the brain grows and matures throughout adolescence and beyond. Because of the long time it takes for the brain to fully grow and mature, suffering from any kind of brain injury during its development can have severe and lasting consequences for an individual’s health and wellbeing.

For example, studies done by the University of Virginia Medical School have determined that the development of a brain has a significant effect on the time period of recovery from a TBI – even mild TBI, which we commonly refer to as a concussion. Research suggests that the recovery time of a mature brain is within five to ten days while the vulnerability of a young brain makes recovery time much longer and can result in long-term difficulties for that individual.

Previous research has been conducted by many leading brain injury specialists such as Ronald C. Savage, president of the North American Brain Injury Society, and Dr. David Hovda, director of UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center. Dr. David Hovda’s research with rats found that it took immature animals with a mild head injury 6 to 10 times longer to recover than the mature rats with the same type of injury.

Dr. Jeffrey Barth, in his presentation for Brainline.org, states “The brain develops from the bottom up and from the back forward. So the last thing that kicks in is the frontal lobes, and that is the area of judgment.” The results of a TBI on a developing brain can thus be extremely detrimental and can prevent the continued growth that would normally happen during various stages of life.

The fact that we are now aware of this research allows physicians who are treating these injuries to view brain damage resulting from TBI with a much clearer understanding of how it compares to an average brain at any given stage of development. A deeper knowledge of the relationship between typical TBI symptoms such as loss of focus, memory problems, and mood swings and a child’s age and developmental stage can also allow doctors to better predict the long-term needs for that individual. Additionally, various brain regions that sustain damage can be better analyzed and more support can be made available for the resulting issues from that specific damage.

The attorneys at Crosley Law Firm stay abreast of new developments in traumatic brain injury diagnosis and treatment and have a wealth of experience dealing with personal injury claims involving traumatic brain injury. If you or someone you know has been injured due to the negligence or wrongdoing of someone else, call Crosley Law Firm at (877) 535-4529 to schedule a free consultation. Our attorneys can review the details of your situation and give you advice about what your best course of action is – free of charge.

References:

Berth, J. (N.D.) Child brain versus adult brain with TBI. brainline.org. Retrieved from http://www.brainline.org/multimedia/video/transcripts/Jeff_Barth-Child_Brain_vs_Adult_Brain.pdf 

Brain Injury Association of America. (2014). Brain injury in children. Brain Injury Association of America. Retrieved from http://www.biausa.org/brain-injury-children.htm 

Giza, C. C., & Hovda, D. A. (2001). The neurometabolic cascade of concussion. Journal of Athletic Training 36(3): 228-235. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC155411/ 

National Geographic Society. (2011, October). Teenage brains. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text 

Savage, R. C. (2012, December 6). The developing brain after TBI: Predicting long term deficits and services for children, adolescents and young adults. International Brain Injury Association. Retrieved from http://www.internationalbrain.org/articles/the-developing-brain-after-tbi/ 

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