By: Kaleigh Nobbe, Clinical Intern

Why I’m Interested:

Having suffered from a traumatic brain injury during (TBI) my adolescence in a soccer game, I have experienced first-hand some of the detrimental effects that head injuries can cause. Not having the knowledge or experience to know I should have sought out medical services, I continued for a week after the injury running, heading the ball and participating in all team activities. As a child, I could not understand why another slight bump on the head could be detrimental as I was perfectly fine with the activities I was still participating in. Immediately, I was removed from all physical activities, academically and recreationally, to allow healing. Without any discussion or understanding of the situation beyond my symptoms, I became angry and started to lash out at my family and friends, creating rifts in my relationships that I blamed for my decreased comprehension of school subject matter and my surrounding social connections. At this time, my family and athletic medical team did not have a firm understanding the psychological effects the injury had, we simply focused on the physical symptoms. It wasn’t until I began therapy eight years after the accident that I realized the cognitive and emotional toll this brain injury caused. One of my current goals is to work with athletes and veterans who have experienced a TBI by helping to rehabilitate them into a new sense of normal if they are unable to return to previous functioning standards. In understanding the changes head injuries can make to cognition, memory, emotion and personality, we can appropriately adjust learning objectives and expectations from a potential decrease in function.

Why it Matters:

            Studies have demonstrated the decrease in neuropsychological function to amateur soccer players compared to athletes of non-contact sports with regards to planning and memory. Having damage to the frontal lobe at an age that is finalizing its development, there is great potential for cognitive deficit in problem solving and understanding hypotheticals when attempting to interpret abstract concepts. Commonly with frontal lobe damage, a person may have difficulty understanding environmental feedback, resulting in repeating or prolonging a response to action, taking risks, or noncompliance to expectations. Ultimately, these activities are increasing risk factors for adolescents to have externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Not only do people suffering from concussions have a tendency to externalize, as previously mentioned, but they commonly internalize through means of social withdrawal and depression. With adolescents attempting to form an identity, these individuals may be unable to commit to an identity and seem aloof or paralyzed by indecisiveness, or they could be unable to sustain meaningful relationships due to their need to socially withdraw.

            Adolescents aged 10-20 more commonly suffer from head injuries with concussion severity ranging from Mild-Low to Moderate in sports including cycling, rugby, football, swimming, skateboarding, hockey, equestrian and others. Contact sports are not the sole cause of brain injury in adolescence but merely a more likely activity to acquire a TBI. Common symptoms that over 75% of those suffering from Post-Concussion Syndrome including physical and cognitive fatigue, coordination and sensory difficulties, impaired memory and concentration, slowed thinking, clinical depression, social withdrawal, and irritability. Although these symptoms were found in adolescents and adults, in some cases their persistence of effects on those suffering have lasted beyond five years. While 45% of participants still experiencing impaired cognitive function beyond two years, it is apparent where adolescents could develop lower self-esteem at such a vulnerable age due to their social comparisons and inability to remove oneself from their cycle of negativity, constantly viewing themselves as a failure. Luckily for the majority of athletes, most are able to make a full recovery from a single concussion. They continue to demonstrate that athletes in higher contact sports that suffer repeated head trauma are more likely to have permanent damage from continued concussions.

            Recognition of the effects a concussion can have on an adolescent at a time where they do not yet have a concrete understanding of self can provide great opportunity to mitigate challenges before they become severe stressors. With emotionally focused support in coping and by helping individuals create a sense of internal locus of control, they have a greater opportunity to break the negative cycle and regain a sense of balance through adaptation and acceptance of their injury. Both internal and external reactions to a sudden event that leaves a person physically, cognitively and emotionally vulnerable can be dangerous but manageable through discussion and rehabilitation, ensuring the adolescent they can still be successful with proper healing and intervention, in turn, increasing the adolescent’s self-esteem and ability to form meaningful relationships. Without acknowledging the danger adolescents face when participating in simple sporting events, we subject them to more risk factors that can lead to psychological and physiological difficulties in their future.

For more information about brain injuries in children, visit The Mayo Clinic.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help parents and children experiencing challenges after a brain injury, call Owens & Associates at (847)854-4333 for a free 15-minute consultation.