July 21, 2009
BABIES and toddlers are at twice the risk of head injuries as children of any other age, research shows, leading to calls for parents to be more vigilant.
The study also found football was a major cause of head injuries in school-age children.
Lead researcher Louise Crowe, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, said her study, in the latest Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, was a warning to parents.
"Head injuries are a major cause of death and disability in children and can result in difficulties with attention, learning and speech," she said. "We recognise that some falls are unavoidable … but a high number of these injuries can be attributed to a lack of parental supervision."
The team surveyed more than 1000 children aged up to 16 who had been admitted to the Royal Children's Hospital with head injuries. More than 40 per cent were aged two or under, with the injury level falling as the children got older. Previous overseas research had suggested older children were more at risk.
Most of the head injuries in the study were mild, but 26 of the children were admitted to intensive care and two died.
Just over half the injuries happened in the home, with school, sports venues and playgrounds also danger areas. Most injuries of infants were due to falls from beds, couches, prams, change tables, stairs and high chairs.
Boys and girls under two were equally at risk, but in the older groups males dominated. For school-age children, sports were a major cause of head injuries, with almost a third due to football.
The researchers called for better public education.
Kidsafe Victoria vice-president Robert Caulfield said: "This research really underscores the point that the family home is a very dangerous place, unless parents really take it on board to have adequate supervision of their children."
Suzan Quilliam's 17-month-old son, Ben, recently knocked his head badly when he fell off a bed and hit a window. Ms Quilliam said it was "awful and frightening".
"Half a second, that's all it takes," she said.
Young Children and Head Injuries
Brain Injury Centre
Head injuries among the very young are an all too disturbing truth, and sadly these head injuries often result in brain damage or even death. Young children and babies have a higher risk of head injuries because of the child’s vulnerable state, and the fact that the size of the head is disproportionate to the rest of the body. This larger head is quite heavy and a baby has yet to develop the adequate muscle strength and ligaments to hold it up.
Another risk factor are “soft spots”. A soft spot is an area where the skull hasn’t completely closed. When the infant receives a blow to this soft spot, it results in a direct blow to this extremely fragile and delicate brain tissue.
Another widely known complication present during the first years of life is “shaken baby syndrome”. The under developed muscles and ligaments are what make this condition so prevalent among this age group. When the child is jolted or shaken violently, for any reason, there is a very serious risk of traumatic brain injury.
This injury can occur as a result of another person shaking the baby, or as result of a car accident… any type of sudden jolt can damage the brain. When this happens the brain bounces inside the skull front and back as well as, side to side, all of this bouncing and banging around can cause a brain hemorrhage, bruising, or even a tear in the brain tissue itself. Either way these are all extremely serious injuries.
When a little one starts toddling around, the risk of head injuries once again becomes very obvious. Toddlers are very clumsy, as they are new to the whole upright moving process, and they are very prone to head injuries.
However, once a toddler starts climbing and running the risk doubles what it once was. When a small child starts walking they are clumsy and have a tendency to fall quite a bit. BUT, they are moving relatively slow, and they are very short so they don’t gain much momentum before they hit the ground.
This is not to say they don’t sustain head injuries, because they do, but when a small one starts running and climbing it becomes very dangerous because they gain the speed and height they need to sustain a very serious life threatening injury.
Since it is impossible to watch them every minute, of every day, it is best to teach them early to protect their self. Toddlers have no sense of reflexes yet, they don’t know to place their hands in front of their face if they are going to plow into something head first, or to put their hands down if they are going to fall flat on their face. It is up to you to try and teach them.
But, you must keep in mind that toddlers are equally as forgetful as they are clumsy, so you have to keep at it. Another helpful tip to keep your baby’s head mark free and healthy, is to take some preventative measures yourself.
Keep the floor free of clutter, cords, and toys…I know with a child this is easier said than done, but preventing tripping is key to preventing falling. Also, close cabinets, drawers, and remove problematic furniture from the room such as end tables and coffee tables.
These items are often prime targets for children’s heads. They result in impact blows on the front of the head, and bounce off the floor blows on the back of the head. These types of injuries cause what is called closed skull injuries, and toddlers receive these injuries everyday.
You can’t prevent every bump or scrape they will get but you can help prevent them by taking some preventative measures…even if it means rearranging your furniture.
© C.King Brain Injury Centre 2009