Dazed and Confused:Caring for someone with a concussion
Caring for someone with a concussion, especially a child, is a very serious matter. It’s not something one can walk off, even if one can walk after it. As a matter of fact, one does not have to get knocked to hard out in order for there to be a concussion – though that is a possibility. Any bump, jolt, or blow, even a mild one, to the head, face or neck can cause the brain to bounce back and forth off the inner walls of the skull. Similarly, having one’s head violently shaking – for example in a car crash or a Cannibal Corpse show – can cause the head to suddenly accelerate or decelerate and lead to traumatic brain injury as well.
However, concussions are more often than not associated with high risk sports such as:
- Other contact sports.
Even baseball, the least athletic of all sporting activities, can be conducive to a concussion, for instance if one gets hit with a ball to the head. As the CDC says, while helmets can help protect from brain injury, there is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet – in particular if you’re getting roundhouse kicked in the head by ‘Crazy’ Joe Davola. But keep in mind that this is not limited to adult professional sports; you know that Pat Benatar song, Hell is for Children? She was probably referring to little league.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion
Observed by parent/caregiver
Reported by child
A concussion cannot be seen, even on x/rays, a CT scan, or an MRI. Moreover, the above symptoms may appear immediately or may be noticed or reported days or weeks after the fact. Sometimes parents have to use their Spidey sense when they think their child has been concussed. Even if you’re wrong, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
What to do if you think that your child has had a concussion?
- Remove the child from play and keep him out until he or she has been assessed by a healthcare professional.
- Seek immediate medical attention – either call an ambulance or take the kid to a hospital.
- Tell the healthcare provider whether the child is on any prescription or OTC medication, has lost consciousness (and if so, for how long), has had memory loss or seizures right after the injury, and also if they’ve had any concussions in the past.
While the symptoms of a concussion may be ambiguous at times, there are certain signs that should be considered red flags, like the following:
- One pupil is larger than the other.
- Inability to wake up.
- A persistent, worsening headache.
- Persistent nausea or vomiting, numbness, or decreased coordination.
- Strange behavior, growing confusion, convulsions.
- Unconsciousness, even brief, should always be taken seriously.
Now that we know what a concussion is and does, we can finally go about the part of caring for someone with a concussion.
How to care for a child with a concussion
The effects of a concussion usually last for 7 to 10 days, but may linger longer than that as well. The main duty of the caregiver is to make sure that the child gets absolutely nothing but rest until his or her brain has fully healed. Returning too soon to activity may aggravate the injury and make the child more prone to a repeat concussion, which can in turn lead to permanent brain damage. Furthermore, not only must the child refrain from exercise but also from going to school, as well as from any activity that could result in another shock to the head (riding a bicycle, playing sports, climbing playground equipment, riding roller coasters, etc.), and any other activity that could make them feel worse (reading, working on the computer, playing video games, etc.) Simply put, the caregiver must ensure that these will be the most boring days of his or her child’s life (that is, until they leave college, get married and get a real job).
Don’t call it a comeback
Back to school
The child can try to go back to school part-time when they feel better. But if their symptoms worsen while class – difficulty concentrating, headache, nausea – they should stay home from school. On the other hand, if they’re ok going half days at first, they can go back on a full time basis.
Back to sports
The child should not go back to sports until concussion symptoms have completely cleared, and they should return to activity very slowly at that. These steps may help them return safely:
Each of those steps should take a minimum of a day; more if symptoms appear during a step, in which case you should stop the activity, wait 24 to 48 hours and continue at the previous step. Needless to say, a doctor must oversee the entire recovery process. Only a medical professional can determine when the child can continue with his or her usual daily activities.