Study shows children take longer to recover from concussion

A study done by York University's faculty of health found that children and youth with a history of concussion have difficulty moving and thinking at the same time, compared to children who have never had a concussion.

Neural experts at York University say it can take children and youth up to two years to recover


Kids can bounce back from a broken arm or a broken ankle much faster than an adult. However, that's not the case when it comes to their brains. A study done by neural experts at York University in Toronto reports that children and youth take longer to fully recover from a concussion than previously thought.

Professor Lauren Sergio from York University's faculty of health says in some cases, it can take up to two years for youth to fully recover. The study also showed they had difficulty moving and thinking at the same time: that's a skill she says is important when playing sports.

The research looked at the prolonged difficulty in cognitive-motor ability in 50 children and youth with a history of concussion and compared it with 49 children who have never had a concussion.

"It turns out that their movements were fine and their thinking was fine and they were cleared to play by all standards," she said. "But when you asked them to think and move at the same time, some of their performances were terrible."

Both groups were asked to perform two different tasks on a dual-touch screen laptop. In one task, target location and motor action lined up. However, in the second task, which tested cognitive-motor skills together, movements didn't align with the target and required thinking and moving at the same time. 

"When we looked at the data, on average, the kids who have had a history of concussion were not performing at the same performance level as their non-concussion peers until 24 months later," Sergio said.

Younger, more vulnerable

Children and youth between the ages of eight and 16 experience enormous neurological development. As a result, their brains are more susceptible to injury. Not fully recovering from a concussion and not being able to think clearly and move simultaneously can affect how they play sports, Sergio said. 

"Parts of your brain might be working okay on their own, but if you have to get them to talk to one another, which is often what you need in sports, that's when you start falling behind," she said. "If you're slightly slower than all the other kids on the field, you're more likely to get hit."

Hard to detect

You don't necessarily have to be knocked unconscious to have a concussion. Symptoms normally are  headaches, cognitive and emotional symptoms like feeling foggy or dizzy, nausea, behavioural changes, cognitive impairment such as slow reaction and sleep disturbances. 

"If anyone suspects ... having a concussion, if they are at all symptomatic, whether it's dizziness or queasiness, the standard would be to get medical attention," said Dr. Lorie Saxby, a registered psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist.

Saxby recommends that if behavioural, cognitive and mood symptoms are present after two to three months, seeing a clinical neuropsychologist for testing can be beneficial to get a better understanding of potential treatment. 

Based on the new research, Sergio says the next step is to create a simpler way to test whether children and youth can think and move at the same time, and find an easier way to track their recovery progress.