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Preventing brain injuries in children

Brain injuries among children can have devastating lifelong consequences, especially if they go undetected and untreated. Fortunately, there are steps Massachusetts parents can take to minimize the likelihood of childhood brain injuries.

The Brain Injury Association of America reports that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is particularly prevalent among children ages zero to four and teenagers over the age of 15. In these age groups, TBIs are the primary causes of death and disability. Brain injuries among children and adolescents are generally more severe than similar injuries among adults simply because young brains are still developing. Recent research has indicated the inaccuracy of the old notion that children can recover from TBIs more easily than can adults; instead, the effects of TBIs in children are often delayed and may only appear as the child ages.

Any child who has received a concussion—or is suspected of having a concussion—should visit his or her physician immediately. Identifying concussions in very young children may be difficult given that they often cannot verbalize the location or severity of an injury. This means that no bump on the head should be ignored by physicians, and parents and health care providers alike should watch for concussion symptoms, including behavioral changes such as irritability, inconsolable crying and restlessness, as well as headaches and vomiting.

Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides several steps for minimizing the possibility of TBIs in children. Most importantly, children should always be buckled up when riding in a car. In particular, all children under two are best protected by a rear-facing car seat placed in the back seat of the car and appropriately buckled with the harness. Furthermore, safety gates and windows guards can prevent young children from falling down stairs or out open windows and are important components of a safe living space for toddlers.

Helmets are important for any high-speed activities, including skiing, snowboarding and riding horseback or on a bicycle. Likewise, children involved in contact sports, such as football, should be outfitted with helmets.

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