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Concussion-Brain Injury-Brain Damage: The words we use do matter in the way that the injury is perceived

I have given many lectures in the past concerning public perceptions of traumatic brain injury, discussing that the words we use have a great impact upon how members of the public perceive the severity and consequence of a traumatic brain injury.

We learned many years ago from the Harris Poll study commissioned by the Brain Injury Association of America that the public perceived a "head" injury and a "brain" injury in very different ways.  The latter being perceived as a more severe and debilitating injury with permanent consequences.

I have also lectured that modifiers's such as the terms "mild" "moderate" and "severe" when used with brain injury do more harm than good and only confuse issues surrounding permanence.  In short, there is nothing "mild" about a mild traumatic brain injury and the use of this term conveys unintended meaning to the general public. However this term, still might be better in describing a traumatic brain injury then merely referring to it as a concussion.

In a study published on line today in the Journal, Pediatrics,"My Child Doesn't Have a Brain Injury, He Only Has A Concussion" researchers studied how the term "concussion" affects public attitudes when describing an injury to a child admitted to the pediatric ward of a hospital following a traumatic brain injury.

The researchers found that by labeling children admitted with mild traumatic brain injuries, glasgow coma scales of 13 to 15, no loss of consciousness and negative imaging studies as having merely a "concussion" as opposed to describing the injury to parents and hospital personnel as a "mild traumatic brain injury" has an impact upon discharge rates, perception of injury severity and decisions regarding return to school and return to athletic activities.

 The study divided children into three group admitted to the hospital after a head trauma.  Doctors used the term "concussion" in a third of the children and the others received some type of diagnosis where the term brain injury was used, either mild traumatic brain injury, traumatic brain injury or just TBI.  Those labeled as suffering from a "concussion" were found to be 1 1/2 times more likely to be discharged earlier and 2 1/2 times more likely to return to school earlier than those with other labels, even though there conditions were not significantly different.

Here is what the studies lead author, Carol DeMatteo said in an interview, "Our study suggests that if a child is given a diagnosis of a concussion, the family is less likely to consider it an actual injury to the brain.--These children may be sent back to school or allowed to return to activity sooner and maybe sooner than they should.  This puts them at greater risk for a second injury, poor school performance, and wondering, what is wrong with them."

It's important that we consider this study when we discuss traumatic brain injury, brain damage and brain trauma in the future.

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