concussions and depression: 4 facts parents need to know
combination can be a life-threatening emergency
As Ohio State athlete Kosta Karageorge is laid to rest today, his death is raising concerns among parents about concussions and their lasting impacts. Columbus police believe Karageorge committed suicide. His mother told officers he had suffered several concussions during his athletic career. She also reported times when he seemed confused and disoriented.
This news has parents of young athletes wondering how common depression is after a concussion. The dangers of concussions, especially repeated concussions, have recently come under the microscope. We are learning more every day about what the brain needs after suffering a hard hit. According to Lora Scott, MD, co-director of sports medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital, there are four things parents need to know about concussions.
concussions cause a temporary change in how the brain works
“Since the brain controls emotions, it is normal to see emotional changes if that part of the brain was injured,” says Dr. Scott. “Symptoms like confusion, headache and dizziness are more common than depression, anxiety, mood swings and anger, but don’t be surprised if these symptoms occur. Parents are the best judges in detecting these changes. Children with altered moods may need closer observation than those with headaches.”
athletes who were depressed before a concussion are at higher risk of more severe depression after the injury
The same is true for athletes with any other medical condition affecting the brain. Athletes with migraines, ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety or mood disorders will often see those conditions get worse after the concussion. “While this is almost always temporary, it can last a few days to several months,” says Dr. Scott. “These athletes usually require specialist care to manage their medical condition and their concussion symptoms at the same time. Treatment plans which worked before the injury may need to be changed.”
concussion symptoms are usually gone in three weeks or less, but 10-20 percent of athletes take longer
Athletes whose concussion symptoms last longer than three weeks usually require more extensive treatments than brain rest. “If your child was never depressed before the injury, but is depressed after the injury, do not be surprised if the doctor recommends depression treatment,” says Dr. Scott. “The same is true for athletes with persistent headaches or concentration problems. To return to normal life, the child will need specialized treatment.”
watch for warning signs of depression
Feeling down and tired after a concussion, but eager to return to normal activities, can be expected. However, if a child has no desire to get back to school, sports and social activities, talk to the doctor about the possibility of depression. Parents may need to talk to the doctor if their child still acts or feels depressed even after returning to school and sports. “If you hear talk of suicide or self-injury, go to the emergency department. That is a life-threatening medical emergency,” says Dr. Scott. “The worst thing that can happen if you go, but didn’t really need to, is a hospital bill and an evening of inconvenience. The worst thing that can happen if you don’t go, but should have, is the loss of a child and lifetime of regret.”
“Depression, whether caused by a concussion or not, is a serious medical issue,” says Dr. Scott. “It is not normal to feel sad all the time or to lose interest in activities. Seek treatment. Be persistent. People suffering from depression do not always make the best decisions and need you to speak for them if you suspect something is not right.”
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