New concussion guidelines developed just for children

Researchers at McMaster University have developed new step-by-step instructions on how to treat concussions in children.

No texting, no computer, no video games. And definitely no hockey.

These were some of the restrictions Laura Turner put on her son Owen's activities for more than a week in December.

Owen Turner, 10, suffered a concussion after hitting his head during a hockey game. (Supplied)

But the New Hamburg, Ont. resident wasn't punishing her 10-year-old for bad behaviour. Instead, using new guidelines on how to treat children who've suffered concussions, Turner enforced the rules to help Owen recover after he hit his head on the ice during a hockey game.

Developed by researchers at McMaster University, the guidelines provide specific instructions on how quickly kids can return to normal activities after sustaining a concussion.

"There are many parents out there who unsure of what to do," Turner said. "These guidelines just make it so clear."

Using the recommendations as her guide, the occupational therapist kept her son out of school for a week, and allowed him to go back to school on a reduced schedule the next week.

Some concussions symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Mental fogginess
  • Poor balance and dizziness
  • Irritability and sadness
  • Nausea and vomiting

(Source: CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research)

Turner said Owen was tired for the first three days — fatigue is a telltale concussion symptom — but wanted to play video games and chat with friends. As for hockey, the sport was off limits until the new year, when Owen was symptom-free.

"I told him, 'I'm not trying to make your life miserable," she said, adding she showed her son the guidelines to help him understand the rules.

"We need to follow this plan so you can get back doing the things you love."

Adult guidelines 'weren't doing it for children'

Carol DeMatteo, an occupational therapist with the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster, helped to develop the guidelines.

She said children who suffer concussions often go back to their normal activities too early, causing symptoms to re-emerge.

"Clinically, we were seeing kids that had symptoms that went on and on and on, and realized that the adult guidelines just weren't doing it for children."

DeMatteo added that taking kids out of school for a week may seem like a long time, but in fact, being vigilant early often prevents kids from getting sidelined later on.

"We don't want to keep kids out of sport or out of school. We just want them to get back there."

However, she stressed the guidelines shouldn't be taken as a one-size-fits-all approach to treating kids' concussions. Some children might need more time than — or have different symptoms from — others.

"I think [the guidelines] come as a package. But the main thing is that it's not a recipe. It's very individual."