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Severe traumatic brain injury affects development in young children
January 23rd, 2012
12:03 AM ET

Severe traumatic brain injury affects development in young children

Children who have severe traumatic brain injuries early in life may have impaired cognitive development and long-term intellectual ability as they get older, according to two small studies published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. 

The first study compared the social, intellectual, and behavioral functions of 53 children who had experienced a traumatic brain injury before the age of three, most of which were the result of falls, with 27 children of the same age who had never sustained a TBI. 

The authors write that while a severe TBI was associated with lowered intellectual function, the socioeconomic status of the child's family may be a more powerful predictor of the child's intellectual development.  They cannot fully explain why, but they suggest lower socioeconomic status, high parental stress and low parental involvement has an effect on a child's recovery. 

The study also found that mild, less traumatic injuries, similar to those commonly sustained from short falls, had no negative effect on any of the child's functions.

The second prospective study, which was conducted at the same children's hospital in Australia, looked at 40 children who had sustained a TBI at some point between the ages of two and seven.

More of the injuries were sustained from motor vehicle or pedestrian accidents than were in the first study and therefore the children had more severe TBIs in this study. The researchers examined the children immediately after the injury, and then again 12 months, 30 months, and ten years later. 

Children in this study who suffered a mild traumatic injury recovered well and didn't face a dramatic deficit in their intellectual abilities, similar to what was seen in the first study. Researchers also found children with severe TBI had problems with their intellectual, behavioral, and social development. More specifically, children with severe traumatic brain injuries seemed to lag behind their peers in intellectual development for upwards of three years after their injury.

"Some of the children with severe TBI did well" after their injury, says Dr. Harvey S. Levin, with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine, who wrote accompanying commentary and was not involved in the two studies. 

"There is intellectual growth with age so it's not like these children don't continue to show intellectual development, but there is a lag."

Levin says that the two studies challenge long-held beliefs within the medical community that young children are not as vulnerable to the negative effects of traumatic brain injury. Rather, factors like the severity of the TBI and the amount of trauma associated with the injury hold more weight in determine how much of a deficit a child may experience.

Children are at high risk for traumatic brain injury particularly because of their propensity to fall. Babies and toddlers are still developing their sense of balance, which is why they often take a tumble. Most falls don't cause anything nearly as serious as a traumatic brain injury, but being around stairs or furniture with hard edges, or walking up an incline, could increase the chances of it happening.


soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Jim Rousch

    I suffered meningitis as an infant in 1971.

    I had to learn how to socialize, and still experience occasional difficulty. And while most of my intellectual capability was recovered, the brain damage I suffered makes it impossible for me to comprehend the higher math classes that I need to attend a four-year college.

    January 23, 2012 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kallenford

      I am very sorry that this happened to you. However, I have worked in healthcare, and if I remember correctly during that time period (70s) about a third of children with meningitis would die, another third lived but had significant impairment, and the other third would have normal or near-normal function after recovery. So, although unlucky in developing it, you were lucky in that the neurologic effects are not substantial (as for trouble with higher math and occasional difficulty socializing, I certainly have that myself, and suspect a good portion of the population does too). Best wishes.

      January 24, 2012 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
  2. wm

    I had a log fall on my head at age five which is believed caused my epilepsy from that age on. In tests I was bored so I just filled in the blanks and they thought I was 'slow' before going to college I was again given an IQ test and it was discovered that I have an IQ of 138 and am in the top .05% of the world. Has there ever been a study on how epilepsy might stimulate brain activity and be a cause for elevated IQ?

    January 23, 2012 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Safe Start Center

    Reblogged this on Safe Start Center and commented:
    Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Affects Development in Young Children

    January 23, 2012 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Raven

    Now that's a shocker. Severe brain injury affects brain development. Kind of goes hand in hand, don't you think?

    January 23, 2012 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. chuchingirl

    wow, really!?!!??? i would have never put those things together......

    January 24, 2012 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kallenford

    "Severe brain injury affects brain development": The full reference for the study can be found in the January issue of the American Journal of the Obvious.

    January 24, 2012 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. weseegoodhealth

    Well this is a DUH...you think. I sure hope there was not a lot of public funds used for this study.

    January 24, 2012 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. DSW

    It is key to get this information out there and there have been excellent reported studies in the Medical Journals. Head impacts before the age of 5 can cause a stunted brain stem development which leads to "grave shyness," reduced IQ, and related. That's why it is critical for children to wear helmets when engaging in sports, bike riding etc. Brain stem damage is the root cause of what the author is talking about here. It needs to be more widely recognized.

    January 24, 2012 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mhob

    Well, Duh!!!!

    January 24, 2012 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. lauramcmillanpiano

    I would like to share the story of my childhood friends' son, who now suffers a severe traumatic brain injury, due to going over to visit a neighbor and the 13 year old neighbor picked up a loaded shotgun in his own living room, pointed it at my friends' sons' head, and pulled the trigger. If you would like to click on the link below, you may read the entire story, I appreciate all who take time and make the effort to read about this beloved family from our community. Thank you so very much, Laura McMillan Here's the link: http://ftp.indiegogo.com/austinstokes?c=home

    April 10, 2012 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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  12. Scott Alan Joseph Keeler

    When I was ten years old in August of 1962, a drunk driver hit my family's car broadside, right where I was sitting in the back seat. My parents and my sister were thrown from the front seat. My mom was killed, and my father, sister, and I were all injured. I have a traumatic brain injury that interferes with my ability to walk, talk, and use my left arm, hand, and fingers. Over the years, I've had surgeries and treatments to help me function as normally as possible. I had a total hip replacement last winter, because I had a degenerative osteoarthritis in my right hip. I've had my right shoulder rebuilt, and a surgery to correct a foot drop in my left foot and ankle. I've had a tendon release in my left wrist, hand therapy, and botox injections to relax my fingers in my left hand. I am in physical and occupational therapy at Borgess Health and Fitness Center at Nazareth. Is there anything else I can do?

    September 2, 2012 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Donald

    my son was born with meningitis. which led to hydrocephalus. he had three operations and several brain CT scans that show total brain damage. doctors said he almost have no brain and he would die but he is seven months now even though he can't see hear, seat, lough or develop. for how long can he live?

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.