Concussions have become the latest health topic in the media. How can parents become educated to recognize a concussion, and know where to go for the best care? How do you prevent disabling symptoms from persisting with a concussion? Knowing what to watch for is the best start to preventing long-term issues. Most concussions resolve themselves in 10-14 days, with a small percentage causing persistent, even disabling symptoms. Experts can’t seem to predict why some people have longer recovery, although the number of concussions a person has experienced can certainly be a factor.
Concussion 101, what are some of the signs and symptoms of a concussion? Signs and symptoms usually fall into 4 categories(1):
- Thinking/remembering: loss of memory for events before, during or after the injury, difficulty thinking clearly, feeling slowed down, difficulty concentrating, trouble remembering new information.
- physical symptoms: headaches, fuzzy or blurred vision, nausea or vomiting (early stages), dizziness, sensitivity to noise or light, balance issues, feeling tired, no energy.
- emotional/mood: irritability, sadness, more emotional, nervousness or anxiety.
- sleep: sleeping more than usual, sleeping less than usual, trouble falling or difficulty staying asleep.
Our family went through navigating the concussion recovery process 2 years ago when our daughter Abby suffered one from a speed skating fall, and then only weeks later, an unfortunate car accident that involved another knock to the head, along with her sister suffering a concussion. Looking back, I wish I had known more about what to watch for and how to get help.
I’ve learned that the most important thing to do is rest and recover. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do; teenagers want to be with friends, not hanging out alone at home. My daughters had a different range of symptoms, but both were severe enough that they spent three months attending school part-time, which of course lead to logistical problems for us with getting them to and from school. I am incredibly thankful for the number of volunteers who stepped up to drive the girls at 3 different times per day, because of course we couldn’t coordinate their school attendance so they came and went together! For me it was actually a blessing that they were both injured together and could keep each other company once home from school.
Going through the recovery of a concussion is difficult; you look “normal” so everyone expects you to be back to activities soon. There is a huge emotional component to recovery, first you have the extra emotions that accompany a brain injury; sadness, irritability, moodiness, and anxiety over missing school and social events were prevalent at our house. We felt like we walked on eggshells around the girls at certain times. We had to remind ourselves that this heightened irritability and moodiness (not your typical teenager girl attitude!) was a result of their injury and they really couldn’t help their behavior at all times; luckily their older sisters seemed to have a knack to get them out of their funk when we were at our wits end.
Both my girls felt sad for all the things they had to miss out on; Abby had to miss a big youth group trip she had fundraised all year to attend, but I knew with her headaches and fatigue, going on a trip for 5 days with limited sleep was not a good idea, luckily the doctor took the fall for telling her she could not go! Annie missed out on a season of downhill skiing, she had just purchased new skis with her own money; but again, the risk of an additional injury when still healing couldn’t be taken. For Abby and Annie to have each other to voice those frustrations was lifesaving. For myself, knowing they were home together, recovering but also supporting each other emotionally was also reassuring.
Outside the world of resting at home, my daughters’ world became filled with medical appointments. We saw neurology specialists, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and vision therapists. The girls went to impact testing and regular neurology appointments at a concussion clinic, which helped to monitor their recovery and help decide if/when they could increase their time at school.
Annie had physical therapy along with vision therapy; with 9 months of treatment; her balance, dizziness and headaches disappeared. Her only lasting outcome was motion sickness when traveling in a car or plane. Abby suffered greater deficits; she experienced cognitive/learning problems, attention and memory loss, as well as persistent headaches. She went through speech, vision, physical and occupational therapy. Her list of interventions isn’t over yet. She is one of the small percentages of the population who experience disabling and persistent concussion symptoms. Abby is able to manage her attention and working memory losses with extra work on school projects and extra studying for tests. She has a 504 plan to help with accommodating her needs at school. The disabling headaches are harder to deal with; she still experiences 5-6 headaches a week with intensity up to level 7. She plows through school not always feeling well, but learning a new normal. Abby has also learned if she does certain things she will increase her headaches and be exhausted. Loud noises, music, large groups are all hard to manage, but also hard to avoid in the world of a teenage girl.
We won’t give up on our quest for that magical treatment that will make a difference! We’ve met many wonderful people on this journey, and I’d like to think I’ve helped educate others on the importance of rest, because most kids will recover in 10-14 days. If you suspect your child has suffered a concussion and they are not getting better, it is important to get the proper care; make sure the professional you seek advice from is knowledgeable in treating concussions. Look for a comprehensive facility that can treat the multiple needs that may arise.
(1) “Injury prevention and control: traumatic brain injury,” centers for disease control and prevention.