Teenage Brains Particularly Vulnerable to Concussions

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A concussion occurs as a result of either a fall or a blow to the head or a sudden bump directly to the head. This essay will concentrate on the effects that concussions have on teenagers and young adults. Concussions impact on teenagers and young adults' academic learning and performance abilities. This is especially in the aspects of speed thinking, concentration, memory, and general school performance. This paper will focus on the effects of concussions on teenagers and young adults. Concussions have adverse effects on teenagers and young adults.

Concussion-related issues have become commonly discussed. This is as a result of the televised games of professional football or ice hockey. It is common to hear about a player who is recuperating or returning to play after sustaining a concussion. According to statistics approximately 1.6 to 3.0 million concussions occur annually in USA. A concussion occurs as a result of a blow to the head or a sudden bump directly to the head. A concussion can be defined as a direct or indirect pressure to the head resulting in an immediate, short-lived, neurological impairment including amnesia, loss of consciousness and confusion, which happens spontaneously, and is typically followed by physical, cognitive, emotional symptoms and sleep disturbance (Slobounov & Sebastianelli, 2006). Although a concussion is not a serious injury, if one does not get properly diagnosed and treated promptly it may lead to a permanent brain damage or, in some cases, death. Concussions are the main cause of more than 100,000 Emergency Room children visits each year (Kamberg, 2011). Most of the concussed teenagers and young adults seek treatment in the offices of physicians while others do not seek treatment. Concussions have become a concern in the society and have made it to major headlines. This is as a result of many players suing the NFL as a result of complications from concussions sustained during play.

Concussions affect all people: old, young, men, women, boys and girls. However, this paper will focus on the impacts that concussions have on teenagers and young adults. Concussions have both direct and indirect impacts on learning. The impacts can make it hard for a victim to process classwork material. Concussions have both physical and emotional symptoms. Some of the physical symptoms include blurry vision, headache, noise sensitivity, sleeplessness, and fatigue. These symptoms affect a teenager's ability to concentrate in class. The emotional symptoms include feeling foggy or slowed down and difficulty in remembering and concentrating. This results in slowed information processing speed and delayed reaction. In order to get a dipper understanding of concussions, the paper will discuss what concussions are, causes of concussions, symptoms and both long term and short term impacts on teenagers and young adults. In addition, the paper will discuss ways of identifying concussions for teachers and trainers.

Concussions

A person can suffer from concussions in numerous ways. However, most of the times teenagers and young adults sustain concussions while playing in school or outside school. When participating in sports, concussions occur when an athlete gets slammed and makes a sudden and forceful contact. The contact can be with a pool deck, ground, a batted ball, court, a kicked ball or thrown ball. Concussions can also occur as a result of a forceful contact with a goal post in football, boards in hockey, a scorer's table in basketball or with another player. Often, concussions occur without any contact to the head. This may happen when a player's body receives a jolt that causes his or her head and shoulders to change direction or speed violently. It is the whiplash effect. Inside the skull, the brain moves in the cerebrospinal fluid and crashes against the rough inside of the skull (Cantu & Hyman, 2012). This can also occur if one falls from a high ground, about six feet high, landing upright, especially if it is unexpected. The jarring can send shock through the spine causing the head to shake with a force, therefore, causing a concussion. Concussions that have the biggest impact on the brain are those that result from a direct blow to the head. A direct blow to the head creates forces that are about five times greater than when one is struck in another part of the body. As a result of such a blow the brain pushes forward until it crushes into the skull before it reverses and bumps against the back of the skull.

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Concussions results from two types of forces. The first force is linear while the other one is rational. The linear force or acceleration is a kin to the straight-on force of a car crashing into a tree. At the moment of impact, the driver's head snaps violently causing injuries. The injury caused by a linear force becomes critical because of the nature of the skull. Since the surface of the skull is rough, the abrupt contact with the brain tissue can be irritating, and sometimes it can cause bruises or tear brain tissue. The rational force can be easily explained when one thinks of a football player running from one side line to another side line and a head-hunting defensive player appears suddenly and makes a crushing side tackle. The collision's force whips the ball carrier's head to one side violently. If the jolt is very powerful, the brain comes into contact with the skull. Although the cerebrospinal fluid cushions the brain, a very large force may result in an injury. Since the brain is driven into the skull by a rotational force, it may stretch and shear. Additionally, the brain tissue and blood vessels are exposed to trauma and may tear. The impact of the rotational force may be worse than that of the linear force. This concern has resulted to the outlawing of the "defenseless player" or blind side helmet-to-helmet hits. Virtually, every hit to the head results in both the rotational and linear forces. Researchers believe that the rotational forces are more injurious than the linear forces.

Metabolic Reactions

Concussions trigger a complicated chain of chemical and metabolic reactions. These reactions are also referred to as the neurometabolic cascade of concussion. This reaction creates confusion in the brain, therefore, disabling its ability to regulate, transmit signals and send a message that controls the way people think and remember. As a result of the violent pulls and pushes, the brain enters an overactive state, hence releasing chemicals referred to as neurotransmitters. This chemical is vital to enable the cells to communicate with each other (Cantu & Hyman, 2012). However, during this state, the cells communicate in a disorderly manner, resulting to a system overload as a result of sending impulses to all cells at the same time. As a result, the potassium ions in the blood flood out while calcium ions flood in resulting in a reverse situation. In order to restore normalcy, the brain requires a lot of energy. However, during this state, the brain's ability to make energy is greatly impaired.

Symptoms during a Concussion

So as to comprehend the impact of concussions, it is important to understand the symptoms. This is especially because the symptoms relate directly to the effects, both short term and long term ones. The symptoms of concussions are classified into four categories that include physical, cognitive (thinking/remembering), emotional/mood, and sleep. The cognitive effects involve difficulty in thinking clearly, feeling slowed down, difficulty remembering new information and difficulty concentrating. The physical symptoms include headaches, blurry or fuzzy vision, dizziness, sensitivity to noise and light, nausea and vomiting, problem with controlling balance, having little energy, and general feeling of tiredness. The emotional and mood symptoms include sadness, irritability, anxiety, and becoming more emotional than normal. A person has sleep disturbance. This may involve sleeping more than usual; have troubles falling asleep or sleeping less than usual (Gillard, Cassidy, Lash, Billings, & Denton, 2013).

Some of the symptoms may appear immediately after the impact while others may take days or even months after the impact before becoming noticeable. Sometimes symptoms only get noticed after a person resumes the normal routine and have a burden of tasks to undertake. Sometimes, young people do not realize or in some instances deny experiencing these problems. Some of the signs may remain for a few minutes while others may last for long. When a person loses consciousness after a concussion, consciousness should be regained within a few minutes. If one remains unconscious for a long time, it may indicate a severe brain damage. Severity of concussions is graded on a three-point scale, which is used as the basis for the decisions of treatment. Grade one concussion: there is no loss of consciousness; transient confusion and other symptoms, which resolve within about fifteen minutes. Grade two: a victim does not experience loss of consciousness; transient confusion and other symptoms, which take more than fifteen minutes to resolve. If there is unconsciousness for any duration, the concussion is classified as grade three.

Effects of Concussions

Post-Concussion Syndrome

Patients of sports-related concussion recover within seven to ten days. However, children and teenagers require additional time due to the development of the brain. About five to ten percent of the teenagers who suffer from concussions still have the symptoms even after about three months. When this happens, one is diagnosed as having a post-concussion syndrome. This may be as a result of preexisting medical conditions, post injury changes in the brain function, and post injury psychological adjustment, and physiology. Post-concussion syndrome occurs mostly due to failure to take adequate time for sleeping, resting and healing after a concussion. Studies have shown that adolescent athletes who take enough resting and healing time after a concussion heal faster than those who do not. Post-concussion syndrome can result in emotional, physical and cognitive stress. It can have significant disabling repercussions that result in the inability of students to attend school, participate in sporting activities and extracurricular activities, and tackle academic work. Additionally, it becomes difficult for a victim to socialize with other people, including friends, teachers, relatives, and classmates.

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Effects of Concussions on the Attention and Executive Function in the Youth

Concussions among the youth are linked with attention deficit and executive function. This can compromise performance of daily tasks. The executive function is the capability to plan resolute behavior flexibly. It is considered to be responsible for external stimuli synthesis and preparation for an action. The processes of attention are thought to be vital elements of the executive function. These elements are also important for the tasks that require deliberate attention such as decision making, novel sequence of actions, trouble shooting, and accomplishment of technical tasks. A group of researchers carried out an investigation on the topic within a two month period after the concussion. The researchers examined laboratory-based measures of executive and attention function in teenagers within two months after experiencing the concussions. The conclusion indicated that concussed youth faced difficulties when recovering the executive function after an injury. The young adults may need an extended time for recuperation before achieving full recovery. The study also showed that the youth who are still in school express deficit performing the tasks that were assigned during the study. Studies show that the surveillance systems have underestimated this effect.

Although the brain of an adolescent is undergoing development, studies have focused on the long-term impact of concussions on adolescents. In a retrospective study assessing sport concussion, teenagers and young adults displayed persistent neurophysiological deficits even six months after the concussions. This is as a result of continued development of the frontal robe of the brain that is responsible for the executive function and working memory. An injury at this age could result in deleterious effects of these cognitive components. Therefore, it is evident that concussions have both short term and long term impacts on the executive function and attention. As a result, young adults and teenagers may find it difficult to concentrate, make tough decisions and study technical subjects.

Depression Caused by Concussions

Concussions may cause depression among the adolescents. Studies show that teenagers who have experienced concussions have three times higher probability to suffer from depression than those who have never suffered concussions. Some studies have shown results indicating subclinical depressive disorder or full depressive disorder in teenagers, six months after a concussion. Additionally, young people with a history of concussions are at a high risk developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Patel & Gredanus, 2010). The teenagers and young adults also find it difficult to control their moods. The depression may even lead to suicide or suicidal behavior. An injury to the head leads to "high alertness" of the immune system brain cells. This results to the overreaction of these brain cells in the future when faced with immune challenges by becoming excessively inflammatory. Studies show that when young adults suffer multiple concussions, response to common antidepressants reduces over time.

Effect of Concussions on Gait

Studies on gait have extended to the evaluation of motor control following concussions. This has resulted in findings indicating the presence of altered gait patterns in persons who have previously suffered concussions. Investigations have revealed shorter stride lengths and slower walking speeds shortly after the concussion. In addition, a research has indicated that young adults who were evaluated within forty eight hours of injury have greater center of mass motion in the coronal plane. Additionally, when walking and conducting a cognitive task, the individuals are slower than normal. In the acute stage of injury, concussed young adults assume a conservative gait strategy in order to sustain steadiness and lessen the risk of further injury from falling.

Effects of Concussion on Academics

There is a significant threat posed on teenagers and young adults resulting from injuries to the developing brain as a result of concussions. It impacts on teenagers and young adults' academic learning and performance. These effects are significant and potentially wide ranging, with an adverse impact on a student's thinking and learning ability. This is especially in the aspects of speed thinking, concentration, memory, and general school performance. Additionally, their academic performance is affected as a result of impact of concussions on the social and emotional functioning of the young adult or teenager (Caroll & Rosner, 2011). Physical pain and fatigue also contribute to the impact felt in the academic performance of a student. The effect can be short term or long term. Subsequent concussions have effects that last longer and sometimes may result in permanent disability or death.

Almost all the students who experience concussions have short term learning and academic performance problems. Most of the students experience direct neurocognitive dysfunction in their concentration, processing speed, memory, and performance. Some people experience secondary difficulties as a result of the impacts of post-concussion fatigue. The main reason why concussions cause academic learning and performance problem is because the brain is a primary organ in learning. Students with concussions experience difficulties when trying to remain focused, understanding the process of information and learning actively in mind to, performing multistep tasks, putting new information into their memories, and processing information and finishing tasks at a regular speed. The impact is especially adverse if the student suffers concussion towards the end of a term. This is because the final grade might be reduced significantly. Since learning is the basic duty of young adults and teenagers in school, everyone should get involved towards the reduction of concussions among these young people.

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Conclusion

Concussions are serious and people have started taking the issue seriously. However, the widely televised football and ice hockey games create an impression among teenagers and young adults that it is not a big issue. Young people idolize most of the professional players and, therefore, trying to play like them often results in concussions. This affects the studies, and in some cases, it affects the entire life. While playing, a helmet cannot be a sufficient protection. Sudden crushes affect the brain even when a person is wearing a helmet. The cases of concussions have resulted to the fact that the helmet-to-helmet hits are banned by the NFL (Miller & CSG, 2011). Since the brain of young people is still developing, long time is required in order to fully recover. When a person suffers a concussion, he/she should rest, sleep a lot and wait for the brain to heal. If one gets a second concussion before the first one is healed, this may result to brain swelling, bleeding and in severe cases, death. It is vital for schools to provide extra caution in regard to concussions. Individuals, schools, community, and health professionals should pay attention to the cases of concussions and the future of young adults and teenagers. Young adults and teenagers should not be permitted to get back into the field too soon in order to avoid second concussion before the first one is healed. These concussions affect young adults in many ways, including reducing their academic performance. Concussions also affect the future life of the youth. Concussions cause depression, affect gait and also affect the youth's attention and executive function.

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