New research published this week in PLOS Medicine underlines the importance of preventing concussion in youth sports. A research team led by Oxford University found that traumatic brain injury (TBI) during youth is associated with an increased risk of adult mental illness and poorer life chances.
The team, which included experts from the UK, US and Sweden, analysed data from more 1.1 million Swedish individuals born between 1973 and 1985 to examine the long-term impact of experiencing a traumatic brain injury before the age of 25.
They wanted to find out how TBI in childhood and adolescence is associated with adult mortality, psychiatric illness and social outcomes.
Professor Seena Fazel from Oxford University, lead author of the study, explained: “Swedish data recording makes it possible to link anonymised health, welfare and education records. We looked at low educational attainment, instances of psychiatric care, receiving welfare and disability benefit and early death.
“We found that a childhood brain injury increased the chances of all these things. More serious brain injuries and repeated brain injuries made them even more likely.”
As part of the study, the researchers compared TBI patients with their unaffected siblings in order to account for the possibility that the risk for these outcomes runs in families.
The analysis showed that TBI consistently predicted later risk of premature mortality, psychiatric inpatient admission, psychiatric outpatient visits, receipt of welfare benefits and disability pension, and low educational attainment, and the effects were stronger for those with greater injury severity, recurrence, and older age at first injury.
According to the authors, the study highlights the importance of reviewing the cognitive, psychiatric and social development of all children and adolescents who sustain head injuries.
Professor Fazel commented: “Our study indicates far-reaching and long-term consequences of head injury. It reinforces what we knew already — that prevention is key. As the data only included hospital admissions for head injury, and therefore didn´t take into account less severe accidents many children have that go unrecorded, these are likely conservative estimates of the scale of the problem.
“Existing work to prevent head injuries to young people in sports, for example, needs to be enhanced. However, we cannot prevent every injury. Long term follow up could identify negative effects so that early intervention can prevent a drift into low attainment, unemployment and mental illness.”