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Doctor: 'Time to Start Paying Attention' to Youth-Sports Concussions

There's a real need for more high-quality research on youth concussions in sports, writes Dr. Frederick P. Rivara, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, in an editorial published online yesterday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

For proof of the severity of youth concussions, Rivara cites a study published in the same journal yesterday, which found children suffering postconcussive symptoms anywhere between three to 12 months after the initial injury.

A similar study, published recently in the journal Brain Injury, also found some teenagers to have lingering postconcussive symptoms a year after their injury. The study authors discovered that teenagers felt the effects of concussions much more severely than younger children (ages 9-12) and adults, but athletes of all ages still experience neuropsychological deficits six months after a concussion.

"The overall message emerging from this research is that the group of injuries classified as 'mild TBI,' including sports-related concussions, should not necessarily be treated as minor injuries, which quickly resolve," Rivara writes in the editorial.

What's lacking, however, are clear answers.

Given the current difficulties in assessing when a person has fully recovered from a concussion, Rivara writes that parents are left to wonder how to provide "cognitive rest" to their concussed child, or how long children are more vulnerable to a second concussion after suffering a first one.

He mentions the Heads Up program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an example of leadership in the area of youth concussions, but notes that "there have been no rigorous evaluations of its effectiveness."

The same holds true for the swath of youth-concussion laws passed by a majority of states over the past few years, he notes.

"Parents across America, their athletic children, their children's pediatricians, coaches, and athletic trainers want answers to these questions," Rivara writes. "Our research community and its funders, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and private foundations, need to step forward and begin to supply the answers."

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