CALGARY, Alberta — Any parent can attest to just how harrowing it can feel when one of their children is injured. A scratch or bruise is bad enough, but many moms and dads understandably experience major anxiety and fear in the event their child suffers a concussion. While every traumatic brain injury is a valid cause for concern, researchers from the University of Calgary may help bring some much-needed relief to parents worried about their child’s road to recovery from a concussion. After analyzing data encompassing emergency room visits in children’s hospitals across both the U.S. and Canada, study authors say that IQ and intelligence do not appear to be affected by pediatric concussions.
In other words, while concussions absolutely require immediate medical attention and care, there’s no reason why the vast majority of pediatric patients can’t make a full recovery. For reference, a concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury characterized by a sudden jolt, blow, or knock on the head that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. Symptoms are often subtle and vary widely, from headaches and nausea to seizures and changes in eating or sleeping habits.
To research this topic, the team compared 566 children diagnosed with a concussion to 300 other adolescents with orthopedic injuries. Kids ranged in age from eight to 16 years-old, with researchers recruiting them from two separate studies. The Canadian cohort featured data gathered from five children’s hospital emergency rooms: Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, as well as emergency rooms in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Montreal (CHU Sainte-Justine). Canadian parents filled out IQ tests three months post-injury.
The American cohort was made up of patients from two children’s hospitals in Ohio. U.S. parents completed IQ tests three to 18 days post-injury.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of concern about the effects of concussion on children, and one of the biggest questions has been whether or not it affects a child’s overall intellectual functioning,” says Dr. Keith Yeates, PhD, a professor in UCalgary’s Department of Psychology and senior author of the study, in a media release.
Dr. Yeates is considered a renowned expert when it comes to the outcomes of childhood brain disorders, concussions, and traumatic brain injuries.
“The data on this has been mixed and opinions have varied within the medical community,” Yeates continues. “It’s hard to collect big enough samples to confirm a negative finding. The absence of a difference in IQ after concussion is harder to prove than the presence of a difference.”
After combining the Canadian and U.S. cohorts, researchers found themselves with an abundant sample, allowing them to test patients across a wide range of demographics and clinical characteristics.
“We looked at socioeconomic status, patient sex, severity of injuries, concussion history, and whether there was a loss of consciousness at the time of injury,” Dr. Yeates notes. “None of these factors made a difference. Across the board, concussion was not associated with lower IQ.”
Children with a concussion were compared to children with orthopedic injuries, as opposed to comparing concussion to control, in order to account for other factors potentially influencing IQ (demographic background, pain, and trauma experiences). This approach helped study authors ascertain whether the children’s IQs were different than what would be expected if they had never experienced a concussion.
According to Dr. Ashley Ware, PhD, a professor at Georgia State University and lead author of the paper, these findings should be shared with parents far and wide.
“Understandably, there’s been a lot of fear among parents when dealing with their children’s concussions,” Ware says. “These new findings provide really good news, and we need to get the message to parents.”
“It’s something doctors can tell children who have sustained a concussion, and their parents, to help reduce their fears and concerns,” comments Dr. Stephen Freedman, PhD, co-author of the paper, and a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine. “It is certainly reassuring to know that concussions do not lead to alterations in IQ or intelligence.”
Another strength of this latest study is that it incorporates two cohort studies; one that tested patients within days of the concussions, and another that waited three months.
“That makes our claim even stronger,” Dr. Ware concludes. “We can demonstrate that even in those first days and weeks after concussion, when children do show symptoms such as a pain and slow processing speed, there’s no hit to their IQs. Then it’s the same story three months out, when most children have recovered from their concussion symptoms. Thanks to this study we can say that, consistently, we would not expect IQ to be diminished from when children are symptomatic to when they’ve recovered.”
“It’s a nice ‘rest easy’ message for the parents.”
The study is published in the journal PEDIATRICS.