Many parents are relying on outdated advice when it comes to caring for a child with a concussion, potentially prolonging their symptoms, finds a new survey.
As part of the research, UCLA Health questioned 569 parents across the US about the measures they'd take if their child's concussion symptoms persisted beyond a week.
"The survey really illustrates just how far the pendulum has swung in terms of caring for children with concussions," said pediatric neurologist and director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program Dr. Christopher Giza, in a statement.
While in the past, the tendency was to downplay the severity of concussions, Dr. Giza highlighted that some parents now go too far in the other direction and can inadvertently complicate their child's recovery.
Seventy-seven per cent of mums and dads indicated that they would wake their child up through the night to check on them – something experts say could actually slow the healing process.
"There is a common misconception that you need to wake children up in order to detect possible swelling of the brain," said Dr. Giza. "But if you are still waking your child up a week after their injury, you are making matters worse. Children need their sleep in order for their brains to heal."
Dr. Giza added that physicians look at factors such as mood, memory and a child's energy level to gauge how well they're recovering from a concussion. All of these factors, he says, are "dramatically altered" if a child is woken every few hours.
"Once a professional has diagnosed your child and determined that there is no further risk, let them sleep," Dr. Giza said noting that encouraging sleep early on, helps the brain to heal faster.
The survey also found that 84 per cent of parents said they would prevent their children from participating in any physical activity while recovering from concussion. And yet, according Dr Giza, while children should avoid activities that place them at risk of further injury, they should not be banned entirely – particularly a week after the injury.
"We certainly don't want them to go back to playing contact sports right away, but gentle aerobic exercise like walking the dog, easy hiking or riding a stationary bicycle is actually good for them," Dr. Giza said. Remaining active, he explained, can help restore a sense of normalcy for kids, lift their mood and help take their mind off their symptoms.
Sixty-four per cent of parents, who participated in the survey, noted that they were likely to take their child's electronic devices away from them if their symptoms persisted beyond a week. As Dr. Giza notes however, isolating kids – particularly teens – from their friends, "brings up a whole new set of issues."
"It's important to ease them back into their social circles quickly," he said, "and that might mean being a little more permissive when it comes to social media and screen time."
Dr. Giza also cited a recent study, which compared two different treatment approaches to concussion in children. The first group was advised to rest for a few days and gradually ease back into their normal routine. The second group was prescribed five days of isolation and complete rest.
"Not surprisingly, the group that was told to stay home, avoid screen time and to only report their symptoms, actually reported more symptoms," Dr. Giza said.
UCLA Health notes that while every child is different, most concussion symptoms should subside within two - three weeks. If not, parents should seek specialist advice.
"The idea is to give them that initial rest and protect them from contact risk, but then start easing them back into intellectual, physical and social activity," Dr. Giza said. "Those things are all important in the healing process and shouldn't be overlooked."
Find more facts on concussion from the UCLA Sports Concussion Clinic here.