Although many researchers have focused on the effects of mild traumatic brain injury in adult patients, a new study focused on brain structure changes in children. Researchers found that even after children no longer exhibited symptoms of the injury, their white brain matter continued to change even months later. According to Science Daily, children who suffer from a traumatic brain injury may be more susceptible to injury and further complications since their brains are at a different developmental stage than adult patients.
Andrew Mayer, PhD, along with his colleagues at the Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, conducted a study on children who were between the ages of 10 and 17. Using an advanced imaging technique, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), researchers examined the brains of 15 children who had suffered a concussion up to 21 days before, and they also observed the brains of 15 unaffected children as a control. Four months after the injury, doctors repeated the imaging and cognitive testing to compare the results.
In the study, which was published on December 12 in the Journal of Neuroscience, children who had suffered from a concussion showed changes in white matter and subtle cognitive deficits when compared to the healthy children in initial testing. The follow-up visit revealed that even after the children stopped reporting symptoms, there were still structural changes to their brains. Mayer explained how the results may suggest that children are more susceptible to injury: “The magnitude of the white matter changes in children with mild traumatic brain injury was larger than what has been previously reported for adult patients with mild traumatic brain injury.”
Results indicate the potential benefit of using advanced imaging techniques like DTI to monitor children’s recovery after they’ve experience a concussion. However, further work is needed to determine whether the persistent changes in white matter at four months represent a prolonged recovery process or permanent change in the brain. Mayer explains that the results could provide help for children who want to return to contact sports after concussion: “These findings may have important implications about when it is truly safe for a child to resume physical activities that may produce a second concussion, potentially further injuring an already vulnerable brain.”