Studies find parents' lack of information about concussions put kids at risk

Growing awareness of the concussion danger for football players has led to stricter athlete concussion protocol, with one Michigan high school recently taking the drastic action of canceling the remainder of the varsity football season after several players suffered concussions. New research, however, shows that parents lack knowledge about mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which could lead to less-than-optimal recoveries.

Two studies presented Oct. 10 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) annual meeting in San Diego assessed parents’ knowledge and misperceptions of concussions, a type of mild TBI. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sports-related concussions lead to emergency department (ED) treatment for 175,000 U.S. children and adolescents annually.

One study, entitled “Parental Knowledge of Concussions,” looked at the responses of 511 parents of 5-18 year olds who were asked to fill out a survey within two weeks after their child suffered a head injury and sought treatment at an ED.

Roughly half the parents surveyed knew that a concussion was a brain injury that could cause symptoms such as headache or difficulty concentrating. An overwhelming majority (92 percent) knew that if they suspected a concussion, they should keep their child from playing sports and consult a physician, but only 26 percent were knowledgeable about the timetable for post-concussion resumption of sports and school work.

“Our study showed that the vast majority of parents knew what to do if they suspected a concussion in their child and in most cases understood the clinical importance of this injury as a brain injury,” Dr. Kirstin D. Weerdenburg, lead study author and pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said in an AAP press release.

“The study also highlights that a physician visit shortly after the injury is important to confirm the diagnosis for parents and to inform parents of return to play/learn guidelines to ensure a proper recovery and prevent a second concussion while the brain is still healing,” Dr. Weerdenburg added.

The second study presented at the AAP conference – titled “Parental Misconceptions Regarding Sports-Related Concussion” – gauged two parent groups’ concussion knowledge via an online survey. It uncovered notable misconceptions among both groups, including incorrectly identifying reduced breathing rate and difficulty speaking as concussion symptoms. The groups also incorrectly believed that brain scans could diagnose concussions.

“Our study highlights the fact that many parents are still in need of education regarding concussion identification and post-injury evaluation,” Dr. Tracy Zaslow said in the AAP news release. “Even those highly educated parents were prone to misconceptions.” Dr. Zaslow is the medical director of the sports medicine and concussion program at Children’s Orthopaedic Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

The leading causes of concussions seen in EDs are sports, assaults, being unintentionally struck by or against an object, car accidents and falls, the CDC says. Concussions that result from somebody else’s carelessness or recklessness are potentially compensable through a TBI personal injury lawsuit.

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