One in five students in Grades 7-12 say they have had a traumatic brain injury in their lifetime, says new study, reported in a St. Michael’s 25, 2013 news story by Leslie Shepherd, “One in five students in Grades 7-12 say they have had a traumatic brain injury in their lifetime.”
Locally, here in Sacramento and Davis, University of California scientists study brain injuries from sports. See the August 10, 2011 UC Davis article, “Football & Brain Damage,” UC Davis Medical Center – UC Davis.
The brain damage found in a growing number of professional football players has been described in detail by a UC Davis Medical Center researcher and colleagues in the July 2011 issue of Neurosurgery. The pattern of protein tangles and plaques in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is distinct from those in Alzheimer’s patients, they report, pointing the way toward an objective diagnosis of the disease.
“The first thing is to identify the disease, give it a name, and identify its pathology. We’ve done that,” says Bennet Omalu, in the UC Davis news release. Omalu is an associate clinical professor of pathology at UC Davis Medical Center and co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University. Omalu was the first to describe CTE in 2002, after examining the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers football player Mike Webster.
Blunt force impacts to the head
CTE is thought to be caused by blunt force impacts to the head. It can take years to manifest as behavioral and personality changes, including memory loss and mood disorders. These can progress to serious cognitive impairment, culminating in early dementia.
“We’re seeing CTE in any activity that subjects your brain to repeated acceleration and deceleration,” Omalu explains in the news release. In a 2011 study, Omalu and colleagues detailed histological examinations of the brains of 17 athletes who played contact sports, including eight professional football players, four professional wrestlers, and three high school football players.
All had died suddenly from suicide, drug abuse, or in accidents. The researchers diagnosed CTE in 10 of the 14 professional athletes, and one high school football player.
A 2013 Ontario study reports one in five teenagers surveyed have suffered a traumatic brain injury
In another study done this year in 2013 in Ontario, one in five adolescents surveyed in Ontario said they have suffered a traumatic brain injury that left them unconscious for five minutes or required them to be hospitalized overnight, a statistic current researchers in Toronto say is much higher than previously thought.
A brain injury doesn’t have to come from only contact sports. A short adolescent who runs with a ball and slams his head accidentally into the jaw of a taller teenager while running can get a head injury that requires a visit to the hospital, such as splitting open the scalp and other types of head injuries that can affect the brain.
A child nine or 10 years old trying to climb over a gate can get a head injury when the gate swings open, the kids loses his or her balance, and falls head first onto the iron bars of the gate, splitting open the child’s face, jaw, or head to the bone, or breaking the teeth.
Sports accounts for more than half the injuries
Sports such as ice hockey and soccer accounted for more than half the injuries, explains Dr. Gabriela Ilie, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital, in the news release. Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, were reported more often by males than females, by those with lower school grades and by those who used alcohol or cannabis in the previous 12 months, she said. You can check out the study when it’s published on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Ilie says, according to the news release, that this is one of the first studies of traumatic brain injury to focus only on adolescents and to include all of their self-reported TBIs. Most previous studies based their reporting only on hospital records. Concussion is the most common form of traumatic brain injury.
The data used in the study were from the 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The survey, one of the longest ongoing school surveys in the world, contains responses from almost 9,000 students from Grades 7-12 in publicly funded schools across Ontario. The OSDUHS began as a drug use survey, but is now a broader study of adolescent health and well-being. For the first time in 2011, questions about traumatic brain injury were added to the survey.
“The questions about TBI were added to the OSDUHS because there were no current data on prevalence in the adolescent population,” observes Dr. Robert Mann, in the news release. Dr. Mann is a senior scientist at CAMH and director of the OSDUHS. “Early research has indicated that there may be links between TBIs and mental health and substance use during adolescence – we plan to study this in the near future.”
The survey found that 20 per cent of adolescents in Ontario said they had had a traumatic brain injury in their lifetime
It found that 5.6 per cent of them had had such an injury in the past 12 months. Dr. Ilie explains in the news release that this suggests the prevalence of TBI among young people is much higher than previously known, because many head injuries remain uncounted when they are not being reported to parents, teachers, sports coaches or health care workers. In Canada, 50 per cent of all injuries that kill and disable youth involve a TBI.
This new research found that 46.9 per cent of the TBIs reported by adolescent females occurred during sports (e.g., hockey, skate boarding); the figure was 63.5 per cent for males. Students who reported drinking alcohol occasionally/frequently and those who reported using cannabis 10 or more times during the past 12 months had more than five times and more than three the odds, respectively, of acquiring a traumatic brain injury in the past 12 months than students who reported abstinence.
Odds of a brain injury were raised of a brain injury if the student used alcohol or cannabis 10 or more times during the past year
The survey also showed that students who reported overall poor grades at school (below 60 per cent) had almost four times the odds of a lifetime acquired brain injury than students who reported grades at or above 90 per cent. “Traumatic brain injury is preventable,” says Dr. Ilie in the news release.
“If we know who is more vulnerable, when and how these injuries are occurring, we can talk to students, coaches, and parents about it. We can take preventive action and find viable solutions to reduce their occurrence and long-term effects.”
Brain injuries among adolescents are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing
There is growing evidence that people who have had one or more concussions are at greater risk of future concussions, and evidence that multiple brain injuries can result in lasting cognitive impairment, substance use, mental health and physical health harms.
This study is part of a team project grant awarded to Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and concussion researcher at St. Michael’s, by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. The work was also supported by grants to Dr. Mann from AUTO21.