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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

There Are No 'Mild Concussions' When Kids Are Involved.

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Protection may mean preventing an 8-year-old child from playing football because when he was 5, he suffered an injury that caused him to black out for 10 minutes. "He does not have the room to lose anything at this point, and so we have to become even more restrictive, unfortunately. It ain't easy, but that's what one has to do to be a responsible parent," O'Shanick says.

Of even greater concern, Hovda says, are injuries that may occur during key periods of brain development, when the brain is particularly "plastic," or receptive to acquiring new information, such as learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument.

"During a child's development, there are critical windows of opportunity where the brain needs to be exposed to a particular type of stimulus in order to evolve or develop specific kinds of functions, and that length of time is different for different kinds of functions," Hovda tells WebMD.

Nearly all brain specialists and experts in child development agree that the brains of children are much more adaptable and open to experience than those of adults, under normal circumstances. But whether kids' brains remain plastic after sustaining an injury is unclear.

Furthermore, a neurosurgeon who has seen firsthand the effects of brain injuries on children says that the effects of some apparently minor brain injuries may not be seen for weeks or months after the initial accident.

"What we see is, even with mild to moderate concussions, that kids are often coming back a couple of months later, and their parents' complaint is that they're not getting the same grades in school, they just can't seem to focus, they can't concentrate. So even with minor concussions, problems in school or problems with behavior are real, cardinal signs that something more has gone on following from their injury," says David Adelson, MD, associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh. He was not involved in the study.

In the report, the UCLA researchers studied rats that had sustained mild concussions and found that even when the injured young animals -- the equivalent of 5- to 7-year-old children -- are raised in a highly stimulating environment, injuries to the front part of the brain harmed their ability to learn from new experiences, compared with their normal littermates.

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