Traumatic brain injury (TBI) in children is a significant concern, impacting the child’s present well-being and future development. The key to proper management and recovery from TBI is early recognition of its symptoms and appropriate intervention with digital health. This blog aims to provide comprehensive information about TBI in children, its causes, symptoms, and medical care using digital health, drawing from reputable research findings.
Understanding traumatic brain injury in children
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states more than 16,000 TBI-related hospitalisations among children (birth to 17 years) and 2,000+ deaths in 2019. The leading cause of fatality and disability in children and adults ages 1 to 44 is traumatic brain injury.
So what is TBI?
In simple words, a traumatic brain injury is an injury that affects brain function. How TBI affects adults is completely different from how it affects a child. The damage to a developing brain completely disrupts a child’s development. It reduces their ability to do the most important three things, which are the deciding factor in their productive adulthood, such as:
The impact of TBI on children is severe and long-lasting, with effects lasting a lifetime.
Types of TBI in children
Research by the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society found that children with TBI had lower cognitive test scores than healthy children. The different types of TBI can have varying severity and consequences, so it is essential to be aware of them to provide appropriate care and support to affected children.
Here are the most common types of TBI in children:
- Concussions. It is the most common type of TBI in children. It occurs when a blow to the head causes the brain to bounce or twist within the skull, leading to a disturbance in brain function. Concussions are usually temporary, but repeated concussions can cause long-term damage.
- Contusions. They are bruises on the brain that occur when the brain impacts the skull. The impact can cause a blood vessel to rupture, leading to bleeding inside the brain. Contusions can cause motor and cognitive function impairments, and severe contusions can cause coma or death.
- Diffuse axonal injury (DAI). It occurs when the brain rapidly rotates or moves back and forth, causing the axons (the fibres that connect nerve cells) to tear. DAI leads to widespread damage and can cause long-term brain damage. Children with DAI may experience difficulty with balance, coordination, and cognitive function.
- Penetrating injury. This injury occurs when an object penetrates the skull and enters the brain. It is the least common type of TBI in children. Acute injuries can cause severe brain damage and can be life-threatening.
Causes of TBI in children
Falls from heights
Recent research published in the Journal of Neurotrauma shows that falls are the leading cause of TBI in children, accounting for approximately 50% of all cases. The next most common causes are motor vehicle accidents and being struck by or against an object.
It is vital to note that the incidence of TBI in children varies according to age. Infants and toddlers are at a higher risk of TBI due to falls, as they are still learning to walk and balance.
Children aged 5–14 are at increased risk of TBI from playground injuries and sports activities. A CDC study found that sports activities account for roughly 10% of all TBIs in children each year.
While high-impact sports, such as football or hockey, are thought to carry the highest risk, studies also indicate that cheerleading, gymnastics, and soccer can also result in TBI if proper safety measures, such as helmets or adequate supervision, are not in place.
Domestic violence and child abuse
Physical abuse is also a significant cause of TBI in children. Recent studies indicate that approximately 30% of all child TBI cases have an abuse-related reason. Child abuse can include:
- Shaken baby syndrome
- Blunt force trauma
- Physical assault
Early identification and intervention are crucial to prevent long-term consequences and protect the child’s welfare.
The need for digital health in recognizing TBI symptoms in children
Detecting the symptoms of traumatic brain injury in children can be challenging. Children may be unable to articulate the symptoms they are experiencing, or they may brush off their symptoms as normal, making early diagnosis difficult.
This diagnosis is where digital health tools come in.
Digital health refers to using technology to provide health care services for individuals. Digital health tools such as mobile applications, wearable devices, and telemedicine can help detect traumatic brain injury symptoms in children. These tools can also help parents and caregivers monitor the progress of the child’s recovery and seek medical attention when necessary.
According to research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, digital health tools can improve the detection of pediatric traumatic brain injury symptoms. By using digital health tools to detect signs, doctors can assess the severity of the injury earlier on, leading to quicker diagnosis and treatment. This assessment can result in better outcomes for the children and their families.
In addition to improving diagnosis, digital health tools can help track the child’s recovery progress, which is important for determining therapies and rehabilitation approaches. A report published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation found that mobile health tools helped improve cognitive function in children with traumatic brain injury.
Recognising symptoms of TBI in children using digital health technologies
Medical professionals have found ways to detect and diagnose TBI in children using digital health technologies.
Balance problems, severe headaches, and changes in behaviour
A study published in the Journal of Child Neurology found that children with mild TBI exhibited slower reaction times, lower processing speeds, and reduced working memory abilities compared to healthy controls. Here, wearable devices such as accelerometers and gyroscopes can detect changes in balance and gait patterns associated with TBI, aiding in its diagnosis.
A study published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation examined using a portable device that measures balance and gait to assess the effects of TBI in children. The study found that the device was highly sensitive in detecting balance impairments associated with TBI.
Other symptoms also include changes in behaviour, such as irritability, depression, and anxiety. For this reason, it is crucial to seek mental health professionals immediately.
Neuropsychological testing to identify cognitive deficits and evaluate concussions
Neuropsychological testing is another critical tool in assessing TBI in children. These tests identify cognitive deficits and evaluate concussions.
Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment & Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) is a computerised test that evaluates symptoms and cognitive function after a concussion. The test can help healthcare providers determine when it is beneficial for children to return to normal activities.
Magnetic resonance imaging for the diagnosis of concussion
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may help diagnose concussions. At the same time, neuropsychological testing tools like the ImPACT test can identify cognitive deficits caused by head trauma.
Appropriate medical care for TBI symptoms in children through digital health technologies
While traditional medical care methods have been beneficial in treating TBI symptoms in children, digital health technologies have emerged as a promising avenue for providing timely, accessible, and cost-effective medical care for children with TBI.
Telemedicine has been utilised in various healthcare settings to provide remote consultations, diagnoses, and treatments for patients with different health conditions, including TBI. According to a study published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, telemedicine was a feasible and effective way to manage children’s TBI symptoms. Telemedicine consultations led to fewer emergency department visits and lower healthcare costs than in-person visits.
Another digital health technology that has gained momentum in recent years is mobile health (mHealth) applications. mHealth applications help patients monitor their symptoms, track their progress, and communicate with their healthcare providers.
In a study published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, researchers found that a mobile phone-based symptom-tracking application improved the accuracy and consistency of symptom reporting among children with TBI. The application also helped healthcare providers identify and manage TBI symptoms more efficiently, improving outcomes for children with TBI.
Online support groups
Digital health technologies educate and support children with TBI and their families. One such tool is online support groups, which enable children and their families to connect with other families going through similar experiences.
A systematic review of online support groups for parents of children with TBI found that these groups improved parents’ ability to cope with their children’s injuries, reduced isolation, and helped parents obtain crucial information and resources regarding their children’s care.
Recognising traumatic brain injury symptoms in children using digital health is critical to providing them with efficient pain management and mental health support. As parents and caregivers, taking a proactive approach and educating oneself about the warning signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injuries is key.
Additionally, incorporating vitamin supplements into the child’s daily routine can aid healing.
Mental health professionals can offer the child and family valuable support and guidance. With advancements in digital health technology, early detection and treatment of traumatic brain injuries in children are becoming increasingly feasible, ultimately leading to better long-term outcomes for those affected.
Let us prioritise children’s well-being and utilize available resources to ensure a healthier and happier future.
Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.