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Childhood Head Injuries Can Improve Over Time

Study: Recovery Plateaus, Then Gains Ground; Recovery Toughest for Severe Injuries

Head Injuries in Children: 'Kids Begin to Do Better' continued...

Whatever the severity of the injuries, the children appeared to need time to recover, Anderson found. The recovery ''trajectories'' plateau from five to 10 years, she says.

After that, the children stabilize and can make gains. This suggests that continued treatment can help, even many years later, Anderson says.

Although this was a relatively small study, the findings are different from what was previously thought.

The study results are at odds with some common beliefs. Many experts believe that children who suffer these brain injuries get worse as time goes on, Anderson says. Not true, she tells WebMD.

"The negative effects of these injuries stabilize after about two or three years and the injured kids begin to do better but never catch up to their healthy peers," she says.

Being in a family that is psychologically healthy was linked with better outcomes, Anderson found.

Head Injuries in Kids: Suggestions for Parents

The study provides valuable information, says Doug Johnson-Greene, PhD, MPH, associate professor, director of neuropsychology, and vice chair of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He reviewed the study findings for WebMD.

The new research has a longer follow-up than most studies, he tells WebMD. It also includes very young children, while other research has not.

For a long time, he agrees, the prevailing wisdom has been that recovery after childhood head injuries is never fully complete. It's often said that kids ''grow into their impairments," Johnson-Greene says. "That's a fancy way of saying [the impairments] become more obvious."

The bottom line from the new research? ''A head injury does not inevitably imply that your child will have impairments forever. This provides some added evidence that impairments may not be as persistent as we once thought," he says.

The research does reinforce what experts have believed, that the more severe the head injury, the tougher the recovery to normalcy, he says.

But parents can help their child, Johnson-Greene says, by asking for appropriate treatment from a board-certified neuropsychologist.

Providing the child with a stimulating and mentally healthy home environment can also help, he agrees. To do that, parents can schedule family outings and play board games with their children, among other activities, he says.

Patience is key, he tells WebMD: "For most head injuries, except mild ones, we talk about recovery that more commonly takes years as opposed to months.”

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