By Gina Johnson, Northwestern University ’20

Concussion–“an injury to the brain that is caused by something hitting the head very hard.” Though Merriam-Webster defines a concussion in simplistic terms, the consequences of such an injury can be much more severe than the description suggests. Typical symptoms include, but are not limited to, headache, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and sensitivity to light or noise.1 While most of these symptoms are widely recognized in the modern day due to improved research and increased media coverage, affected individuals tend to have significant differences in severity and type of symptoms.2 People who have suffered from a concussion may experience lingering symptoms lasting anywhere from a few days to beyond a year. These symptoms are classified under the title of “post-concussion syndrome.”3 Persistent post-concussion symptoms such as chronic headaches or dizziness can severely restrict a person’s ability to participate in school, athletics, and other activities such as using electronic devices or listening to music. Furthermore, extended recovery time can have a profound impact on the emotional, social, and academic aspects of the affected person’s life.

Concussions and their effects are primarily associated within the context of athletics. However, the consequences of sustaining such an injury affect many aspects of a person’s life beyond athletics. A qualitative study conducted in 2015 by South Dakota State University examined the health-related quality of life in adolescents who had suffered from a concussion more than 1 year prior. The study reported that sports-related concussions not only impacted physical functions but also emotional well-being, school attendance, and interpersonal relationships.4 Participants in the study consistently voiced feelings of frustration and a substantial decline in academic and social functioning. Often times, concussion symptoms force patients to suspend participation in sports teams, social events, and other extracurriculars which can have a profound negative psychological impact on their well-being. In a different study of concussed patients ages 8-18, over 50% of the respondents indicated that the loss of former extracurricular activities was the worst aspect about having a concussion.5

In many cases, a decline in academic performance is noted as a major negative consequence of a concussion. A 2015 pediatric study on concussed students determined that most symptomatic patients and their parents reported a more adverse impact on school performance than did recovered peers and their parents. Within the group of symptomatic patients, 59% of students and 64% of parents reported significant academic concerns. Among the patients experiencing symptoms, 90% reported having trouble in one or more classes, and 55% reported spending increased time on homework. Cognitive issues involving memory and learning create a variety of problems for students. Of the symptomatic students, 70% said that chronic headaches were interfering with their learning and 61% experienced difficulty paying attention.6 The schools themselves, with bright lights and busy hallways, can exacerbate these symptoms as well. Difficulties arise when school officials are unable to recognize the issues these students face, since most people who have suffered from a concussion appear normal from the outside.7

My own experience has supported the evidence that the impact of concussions is not limited to just cognitive functions. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, I was involved in a bicycle crash during a triathlon. Though I was diagnosed with a mild concussion, I was plagued with lingering symptoms including headaches, dizziness, and an inability to concentrate for over a year. I was forced to quit sports teams, piano lessons, volunteering groups, and other extracurricular activities. Diminished contact with my teammates eroded some of my most valued friendships, and my inability to participate in activities I loved for an extended amount of time was extremely discouraging.

However, the most profound hardships I faced were in the classroom. While my school was very accommodating to my needs, I had difficulty completing the school days with my symptoms. Constant headaches forced me to lay down in the nurse’s office up to three times per day. When it was time for homework, my brain was so exhausted that I was unable to focus for more than twenty minutes at a time. Instead of reading books, I had to listen to audiobooks, or, if those were unavailable, my parents had to read to me. Tests were too long for me to concentrate, so I had to arrange time with my teachers to come to school early and take a portion of the test before class. These struggles continued well into my junior year. Ignoring the advice of my doctors who advised me to drop all my AP coursework, I continued to push myself. Though my doctor’s note said I had “no due dates” for homework, I knew that if I fell behind, my grades would suffer. I was under constant stress to keep up with the rigor of my classes, especially with college applications looming in front of me. Ultimately, I was able to make a full recovery, but not without overcoming significant obstacles along the way. My story illustrates just one example of the extensive academic challenges faced by those who have suffered from concussions.

The inconsistencies in symptoms and lingering effects of concussions are the primary reason for the lack of concrete, effective treatment. Unlike a broken bone, a concussion is not the type of injury for which a medical professional can definitively prescribe  how much rest time is needed for healing. Variation in recovery times compared to others who have suffered from concussions can be extremely disheartening to patients. In order to ensure that those who suffer from concussions are still able to succeed both academically and socially with their injuries, support systems must be implemented to facilitate healthy recovery. Schools should be proactive in securing academic accommodations for students who have suffered from concussions. Additionally, they should provide concussion education programs to prepare teachers and peers to respond appropriately and positively when a person voices concern or exasperation regarding his or her head injury. As awareness  spreads, people will hopefully begin to recognize and understand the multi-faceted struggles of concussed patients.

References:

1. ”Concussion: MedlinePlus.” Concussion: MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine, 8 Feb. 2016.
Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
2. ”Injury Prevention and Control: Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion.” Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
3. Staff, By Mayo Clinic. “Post-concussion Syndrome.” – Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical
Education and Research, 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
4. Iadevaia, C. “Qualitative Examination of Adolescent Health-Related Quality of Life at 1 Year
Postconcussion.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine,
Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
5. Stein, CJ. “Young Athletes’ Concerns About Sport-Related Concussion: The Patient’s Perspective.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2016. Web.
23 Oct. 2016.
6. Ransom, Danielle M. “Academic Effects of Concussion in Children and Adolescents.” Pediatrics 135.6
(2015): n. pag. American Academy of Pediatrics, 11 May 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
7. Halstead, ME. “Returning to Learning following a Concussion.” National Center for Biotechnology
Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

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