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Survey finds most parents use outdated concussion advice

Too much restriction on activity and constant worry can affect treatment and recovery negatively, say researchers.

By
Stephen Feller
Kennedy Dierk, 14, walks her dog while recovering from a concussion. Many parents restrict their kids’ activity too long during the recovery process, potentially prolonging recovery or making their condition worse, doctors say. Photo by Barb Consiglio/University of California Los Angeles
Kennedy Dierk, 14, walks her dog while recovering from a concussion. Many parents restrict their kids’ activity too long during the recovery process, potentially prolonging recovery or making their condition worse, doctors say. Photo by Barb Consiglio/University of California Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Parents of children who sustain concussions may be following outdated advice for care and increasing the potential for greater harm, according to a recent survey of parents.

Parents may restrict children's activity too much after a concussion or continuously wake them from sleep to check their condition, both of which hinder diagnosis, care and recovery, report researchers at the University of California Los Angeles.

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Concussion rates of children and teens in the United States have doubled during the last decade, with most caused by injuries playing sports and other physical activities. With the increasing rates, parents have become more aware of the potential harm from such injuries, delivering a level of care that could be detrimental.

UCLA researchers interviewed 569 parents, asking how they would care for a child with concussion symptoms lasting more than a week and were somewhat surprised by some of the results, they say.

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The researchers report 84 percent of parents would make their children refrain from physical activity to prevent the risk of further injury, but this is wrong, according to Dr. Christopher Giza, a pediatric neurologist at UCLA.

"We certainly don't want them to go back to playing contact sports right away, but gentle aerobic exercise like walking the dog, easy hiking or riding a stationary bicycle is actually good for them," Giza said in a press release. "Being active can help children improve their mood, take their mind off their symptoms and restore a sense of normalcy."

In addition to preventing physical activity, many parents also move to inadvertent social isolation -- 64 percent of parents said they were likely to take away their children's electronic devices -- which leads to stress, depression and anxiety, among other mental health effects of cutting teenagers off from their world.

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Giza pointed to a series of previous studies suggesting children with concussion who were isolated from their friends while recovering from an injury reported symptoms persisted, and in many cases increased.

The importance of mood, memory and energy are important to diagnosing and treating concussions, as well as tracking progress, making improvement a key part of recovery, Giza said.

More than 77 percent of parents also said they would wake their child every few hours during the night to check on them, even a week after a concussion, but Giza said this is unnecessary and potentially damaging for two reasons: Mood and cognitive function are key indicators for concussion patients, and because sleep helps the brain heal faster.

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Although a child should be seen immediately if there is concern for concussion, Giza said once a diagnosis has been made, both sleep and slow movement toward normal life is important for recovery, based on the individual injury. And parents should not worry as much as it appears they do unless symptoms don't subside two to three weeks after a concussion.

"This survey really illustrates just how far the pendulum has swung in terms of caring for children with concussions," Giza said. "In the past, there was often a tendency to downplay the significance of concussions. Now some parents go too far the other direction and, despite their best intentions, they can inadvertently complicate their child's recovery."

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