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Explaining Brain Injury to Your Child

Chapter Four, The Caregiver’s Journey on tbi.cemmlibrary.org

 

Having a parent with a TBI can be frightening for a child who looks to them to provide strength and safety.
A parent with TBI may no longer act the same as they did before the injury. They may be angry, depressed, or uncertain. They may not be able to speak or walk, and they may not be able to do all the same things they did before they were injured (for example, go to work, pick up the kids from school, play on the playground). You can help your children by explaining TBI in a way that they can understand, or you can ask a healthcare provider to talk with your children.

As a result of the changes caused by the injury, the special parent-child bond that existed previously has probably changed, at least to some degree.

Children may be confused and upset about what is going on. This could be due to worry about a parent’s condition or concerns about changes in their parents’ relationship. It could also be due to financial strains, or simply adjusting to the new “normal” (in other words, the new way of life following the TBI). Be sure to communicate with your child that they are not to blame for the TBI – many children will assume they somehow contributed to the injury and will carry some sense of responsibility for it. If your child appears to be anxious or depressed for a long time, or they begin taking on risky behaviors, seek professional help.

It is important to recognize that your children are grieving, just as you are – they are grieving the loss of the parent’s former “self” and the abrupt changes that have taken place. They may withdraw from social activities with peers, have mood swings, become withdrawn or disruptive, do poorly in school, and show other behavioral problems.

Children also need time and space to be kids. Allow them time to think, play, talk, or just hang out – don’t smother them with too much information or attention over the injury – but be sensitive to their questions and concerns. Build new family routines, and keep an eye out for signs that your child is not coping well.

Some children may need to take on some caregiving tasks for the parent or for younger children in the family. Children who care for parents or other relatives may experience conflict over the reversal of roles between parent and child. Others will find it helpful for them to play a supportive role.

Make sure any tasks that your child takes on to help around the house or with caregiving activities – household chores or meal preparation, for example – are suitable for their age. Strive as much as possible to find other adults to help you, rather than relying on your children to play a major caregiving role.


 
How Can I Tell My Child about TBI?

It is difficult to explain TBI to a child. Yet it is vital to tell your child what is going on. Some adults try to protect children from the truth because they think they are too young to understand. Children of almost any age are aware that something is wrong and they want to know what is happening.

Communicate in an age-appropriate way what has happened to the service member or veteran with TBI. Protecting your children by withholding information may backfire. Children have active imaginations that may create a scenario worse than reality.

How you tell your child about TBI depends on the age of the child. Here are some suggestions for how to explain TBI to a child:

  • Use Language a Child can Understand: The brain is similar to the command station of a spaceship. If a meteorite hit the command station, the crew would not be able to control what the spaceship does. If the brain is hurt, it may send out the wrong signals to the body or no signals at all. A person with TBI may have a hard time walking, talking, hearing, or seeing.
  • The brain is the body’s computer. When it gets injured, it doesn’t “boot up” properly, runs slower, has less memory, and may not perform all of its normal functions.
  • A cut may take a few days to heal, and a broken bone will usually heal and be as good as new in a few weeks or months. Getting better after a brain injury can take several months or even years, and sometimes the person may not get 100 percent better.
  • Even though the person with the injury may look the same, they may still be injured. These injuries might include having a hard time paying attention or remembering what you told them. They may get tired easily and need to sleep more than usual. They may say or do things that seem strange or embarrassing. They may get angry and shout for no apparent reason.
  • Explaining Anger Changes: Many people with a TBI develop anger as a direct effect of the damage to the brain. In other words, the parts of the brain that normally stop angry flare-ups and feelings have been damaged and don’t do their job as well. The parent with TBI may be mad because they can’t do the things they used to do. Their feelings may be hurt because others treat them differently than before the injury.
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    Brain injury changes people. These changes can be confusing. Try to remember that the changes you see are caused by the brain injury. You can still love and care about the person regardless of the brain injury.
     

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    By Alyssa Navarro, Tech Times (August 23, 2016) — Federal health regulators in the United States approved on Monday the use of two new computer softwares as cognitive screening tests for traumatic head injury patients.

    Known as ImPACT or the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), the new testing device, as well as a similar test designed for children, can be used by doctors to evaluate signs and symptoms of head injuries that could indicate concussion.

    ImPACT is designed for patients aged 12 to 59 years old, while ImPACT Pediatric is intended for children aged 5 to 11 years old, officials said. Licensed health care professionals are the only ones allowed to perform the analysis and interpret the results.

    The software can be accessed easily because it runs on both desktop computers and laptops, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both tests the first ever devices permitted by the FDA to assess cognitive function after experiencing a possible concussion. They are designed to be part of medical evaluations in hospitals.

    Although ImPACT and ImPACT Pediatric will definitely be useful for doctors, both tests are not meant to diagnose concussions or determine treatments that are appropriate for such cases, the FDA said.

    Instead, both devices are only designed to test cognitive skills such as reaction time, memory and word recognition. All of these can be impacted by head injuries. Afterwards, the results are compared to a patient’s pre-injury baseline scores or an age-matched control database, the FDA said.

    Dr. Carlos Peña, director of the neurological and physical medicine division at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, acknowledges that the two testing devices can provide useful information that can aid doctors in the evaluation of people who are experiencing potential signs of concussion.

    However, Peña says that clinicians should not completely depend on the tests alone to rule out concussion or to decide whether a player with a head injury should return to a game.

    Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that traumatic brain injuries are responsible for more than 2 million visits to the emergency room in the country annually. Traumatic brain injuries also account for more than 50,000 deaths in America every year.

    Cases of head injury among kids have been increasing. In May, a CDC report showed that from January 2001 to December 2013, approximately 214,883 children aged 14 years old and below were brought to emergency departments due to head injuries.

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    UCSF Researchers Advocate Prioritizing Teens for Education and Prevention

    by Scott Maier (August 17, 2016) — The number of Americans diagnosed with concussions is growing, most significantly in adolescents, according to researchers at UC San Francisco. They recommend that adolescents be prioritized for ongoing work in concussion education, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

    The findings appear online August 16, 2016, in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

    “Our study evaluated a large cross-section of the U.S. population,” said lead author Alan Zhang, MD, UCSF Health orthopaedic surgeon. “We were surprised to see that the increase in concussion cases over the past few years mainly were from adolescent patients aged 10 to 19.”

    Concussions are a form of mild traumatic brain injury resulting in transient functional and biochemical changes in the brain. They can lead to time lost from sports, work and school, as well as significant medical costs.

    Though symptoms resolve in most concussion patients within weeks, some patients’ symptoms last for months, including depression, headache, dizziness and fogginess. Neuroimaging and neuropathological studies also suggest there may be chronic structural abnormalities in the brain following multiple concussions.

    Recent studies have shown an increase in traumatic brain injuries diagnosed in many U.S. emergency departments. Smaller cohort studies of pediatric and high school athletes also have indicated a rise in concussions for certain sports, such as football and girls’ soccer. However, this is the first study to assess trends in concussion diagnoses across the general U.S. population in various age groups.

    In this study, Zhang and his colleagues evaluated the health records of 8,828,248 members of Humana Inc., a large private payer insurance group. Patients under age 65 who were diagnosed with a concussion between 2007-2014 were categorized by year of diagnosis, age group, sex, concussion classification, and health care setting of diagnosis (emergency department or physician’s office).

    Overall, 43,884 patients were diagnosed with a concussion, with 55 percent being male. The highest incidence was in the 15-19 age group at 16.5 concussions per 1,000 patients, followed by ages 10-14 at 10.5, 20-24 at 5.2 and 5-9 at 3.5.

    The study found that 56 percent of concussions were diagnosed in the emergency department, 29 percent in a physician’s office, and the remainder in urgent care or inpatient settings. As such, outpatient clinicians should have the same confidence and competence to manage concussion cases as emergency physicians, Zhang said.

    A 60 percent increase in concussions occurred from 2007 to 2014 (3,529 to 8,217), with the largest growth in ages 10-14 at 143 percent and 15-19 at 87 percent. Based on classification, 29 percent of concussions were associated with some loss of consciousness.

    A possible explanation for the significant number of adolescent concussions is increased participation in sports, said Zhang, MD, who is also assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at UCSF. It also may be reflective of an improved awareness for the injury by patients, parents, coaches, sports medical staff and treating physicians.

    For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “HEADS UP” initiative has caused numerous states such as California to alter guidelines for youth concussion treatment.

    Many medical centers also are establishing specialty clinics to address this, which could be contributing to the increased awareness. At UCSF, the Sports Concussion Program evaluates and treats athletes who have suffered a sports-related concussion. The team includes experts from sports medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neuropsychology and neurology. Their combined expertise allows for evaluation, diagnosis and management of athletes with sports concussions, helping them safely recover and return to sports.

    Other UCSF orthopaedic surgery contributors to the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine study were senior author Carlin Senter, MD, associate professor; Brian Feeley, MD, associate professor; Caitlin Rugg, MD, resident; and David Sing, clinical research associate.

    UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.

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