Brain injuries are occurring at an alarming rate among Ontario teenagers, a new study has found, making education and awareness on the effects of a blow to the head crucial for parents, says Toronto critical injury lawyer Dale Orlando.
“I think there’s a common misconception where people talk about a concussion without understanding that a concussion is considered to be a brain injury,” says Orlando, partner with McLeish Orlando LLP. “A concussion, by definition, is a mild or moderate brain injury.”
The study found that one in five teens in Ontario has had a concussion or another brain injury in their lifetime that was serious enough to leave them unconscious for five minutes or to send them to hospital overnight, CTV reports.
As well, a total of 5.6 per cent reported they had had a concussion or significant brain injury in the past year, it adds.
“Statistically, the majority of people who suffer mild traumatic brain injuries go on to have full symptom resolution, but there is a percentage that have significant ongoing difficulties as a result of their mild traumatic brain injury,” says Orlando. “But even for the people that do go on to have a good recovery and are symptom free, they become much more vulnerable to more significant impairments if they suffer a second head injury.”
The study used data from the 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, CTV reports, noting it used responses from almost 9,000 students from Grades 7-12.
The survey found that the majority of traumatic brain injuries for the teens occurred during sports: 47 per cent for girls and 63.5 per cent for boys, with hockey and soccer accounting for more than half the injuries, the report says.
“I think as parents we have to be hyper vigilant and aware that a concussion isn’t just a minor thing like a scrape or a bruise that happens through the course of childhood that isn’t a big deal,” says Orlando.
“Many Canadian boys and girls grow up chasing the dream of making a living playing hockey, but Peewee games and Bantam games - they’re not the NHL,” he says. “Rules regarding hits to the head should be stringently enforced. Any hit directed to the head should have serious consequences for the person delivering the hit. Hitting from behind, driving somebody’s head into the boards ... the penalty should be increased to eliminate it from the sport.”
On the soccer field, Orlando says it’s common to see injuries from regular activities, like heading the ball.
“That may not be appropriate for children of a certain age,” he says.
Orlando says while improvements have been made in sporting rules, more can be done to prevent serious injury.
“I think we’ve come a long way from the days of somebody suffering a concussion and having the coach say ‘Get back out there for your next shift.’ There are practices and protocols in place,” he says. “Parents have to recognize that a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury and the restrictions associated with return to play are there for a reason.”