Children’s brain injuries do not get worst over time: study

07 March, 2012

Children's development after a brain injury does not get worse over time, a Murdoch Childrens Research Institute study has found.

Contrary to a long held clinical view that a child's development after a traumatic brain injury gets worse over time, the study found after an extended recovery period, children gradually stabilised and began to make developmental gains, regardless of injury severity.

The study, which is published online in Paediatrics, is the first to systematically follow children from the time of their traumatic brain injury (TBI) to ten years post injury.  It showed that severe injury is associated with poorest outcome, but after three years, the gap between children with severe TBI and peers stabilises.

Researchers examined 53 children 10 years after experiencing a TBI, studying the social and behavioural skills of children who had experienced a TBI between the ages of two and seven years of age.

Researchers found in the initial period after their brain injury, while the brain copes with the impact of injury and begins to recover - usually about three years - the children didn't make any developmental gains, however after this period they started to make age-appropriate developmental gains, right up until at least 10 years post insult.

Lead researcher, Professor Vicki Anderson, from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, said the results are important because it queries the current viewpoint about children's development after brain injuries and shows children don't get further behind their peers.

"There is a clinical view that young children who suffer a brain injury get worse as time goes on, and that the severity of the head injury, dictates the outcome.  But in fact, what we found was this wasn't the case," Prof Anderson said.

"The study questions this speculation that children 'grow into deficits' with time since injury.  Rather, it appears that, after a prolonged recovery period, these children gradually stabilise and begin to make some developmental gains, suggesting that even many years post insult, intervention may be effective and helpful."

"Although this does not suggest that children "catch up" to peers, it does imply that the gap does not widen during this period." 

Source: Murdoch Childrens Research Institute