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TBI in Infants by Charles Watson


Posted on March 18, 2021

Traumatic brain injury subjects its victims to a lengthy period of discomfort. Your once active body and honed skills are now that of a child. This can take a toll when even the basic activities of life drain you. Imagine having a basketball player not even being able to stand without support or an artist not being able to concentrate to even draw a straight line. It gets so frustrating. 

But what’s more saddening is becoming victim to TBI in the development years. The infancy years defined between 0-5 years are crucial years for mental, physical and behavioral development. TBI in such ages can permanently affect the child and it has. Children from 0-4 years are most susceptible to TBI so much that there are around 64,000 reported cases of TBI in children annually.  

Cognitive development in infants

With children at such a threat, it is important to prevent and understand the aspects that TBI affects in children. Considering how children are in their peak cognitive developmental stages during their first few years it is vital to understand the relation between the two. 

The first two years after birth is a sensitive time for an infant. It is not only adjusting to the world but also rapidly trying to grasp various survival functions like sight and hearing. This is also why in this age children are taught by graphics and visuals rather than words. A two year old is also battling to understand the concept of identifying the friends and foes. This means meeting new people and recognizing familiar faces. 

After these two years the child starts grasping onto communication skills which by the age of 5 or 6 are pretty much adult-like except for complex analysis. This age also deals with memory development of the child. The child can now retain information and use it to further analyze a situation. So this marks the start of a child’s critical thinking abilities as well.  

Causes of TBI in infants

Almost 60-70% of cases of TBI in children are caused by falls and these are not the ones that you get by falling while running. This could mean falling from a bicycle or being in a motor vehicle accident. 

Other major causes are sports related injuries like swinging, trampolines, football and other sports that demand a little vigor. 

However, infants are more likely to have TBI due to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). You might have noticed how infants are incapable of holding their head straight. This is because their head to body proportions are still unmatched and the neck muscles are still weak. 

Shaken Baby syndrome refers to vigorous shaking of the child’s body, the weakened neck muscles and head weight causing a whiplash effect and damaging the brain. Infants with SBS show extreme irritability, lethargy, reluctance in feeding and rapid breathing with disorientation in sight. 

Consequences of TBI in infants

The consequences of TBI can be categorized into two types depending on the period of prevalence. The immediate and short-term consequences of TBI are more or less apparent and are the ones that are addressed during rehabilitation. The long-term consequences of TBI manifest later on mostly post-recovery. The consequences can also be differentiated based on what aspect of the brain the TBI damages. 

Physical consequences: 

  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Headaches and sometimes migraine
  • Slow walking, problem in writing and basic muscular activities
  • Slow reflexes 
  • Seizures

Cognitive consequences: 

  • Memory issues (lowered retention of information, cannot process complex material)
  • Difficulty concentrating and small attention span (easily distracted, zone out while watching or hearing something)
  • Lack of organization (cannot recall the right placement of things, lack of time management, get stuck in multi-step tasks)
  • Critical thinking (takes time comprehending even basic conversation, slow sense of responsiveness)
  • Visual spatial difficulties (cannot comprehend distances between objects especially if moving like catching a ball, following a line when reading, etc.)
  • Lowered intellectual functioning (IQ greatly affected in children under 7)

Understanding the development of the brain in children allows rehabilitation centers to devise therapeutic activities and treatments in accordance but before that it allows us to prevent them from even taking place.