WATCH ABOVE: There’s troubling new research into how little we know about kids and concussions. Vassy Kapelos breaks down what parents and coaches need to know.
TORONTO — Not sure what to do if your child is suffering from a concussion? A team of Canadian doctors is launching the country’s first concussion guidelines that’ll be doled out to health care workers, parents and schools.
About 30 experts from across Canada and the United States joined forces to develop the new guidelines and tools in hopes of streamlining diagnosis and treatment of concussion in young patients.
“These are the first comprehensive pediatric guidelines that we’re aware of — they reflect the very best available evidence today,” according to project lead Dr. Roger Zemek, an emergency medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
Most guidelines that already exist are catered toward athletes and adults, but they don’t necessarily apply to children. That’s why Zemek and his team decided to embark on the two-year project, which reviewed more than 4,000 academic papers. The guidelines are specifically for youth aged five to 18 and were initiated by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.
Concussion in the spotlight
Concussion has become a hot-button issue in sports — specifically hockey and football. But Zemek reminds Canadians: it’s also extremely common in kids and the injury doesn’t necessarily stem from sports in the early years.
In CHEO alone, the children’s hospital sees almost 900 concussions annually. In emergency rooms across Canada, Zemek estimates that childhood concussions likely reach the tens of thousands.
His team polled 800 doctors, pediatricians, paramedics, and nurses to see how well they understood what the latest evidence was on treating concussion. Turns out, 80 per cent diagnose concussion at least five times or more per year (emergency pediatricians diagnose more than 20). Yet less than 50 per cent of the group was applying the latest recommendations when it came to treatment.
It was once a band aid, one-size-fits-all solution: child or adult, if you lost consciousness from a concussion, for example, you were resting for a month. But the advice was vague and didn’t factor in school or non-athletic activities.
New research calls for individualized treatment, recovery plan
Now, research has pointed to the need for physical and mental rest. That means no school, no reading or strenuous games.
“We describe it like a battery that stores your memories, thinking, emotions. When you have a concussion, you discharge some of that battery and you need to rest to allow the brain to heal itself,” he said.
And the treatment and recovery will vary based on the child.
That’s where Zemek’s guidelines come in: the researchers created a one-stop shop for Canadians to find the information they need about concussions.
Doctors can refer to it for advice on diagnosing, treatment or monitoring recovery. They can also decipher which patients need CT scans and print out checklists and other tools to hand to parents.
Parents, teachers and coaches can also refer to pocket guidebooks that’ll walk them through symptoms, what to do and how to monitor progress, Zemek said.
With the launch, Zemek is leading Canadian Paediatric Society workshops. The doctors are also rolling out the guidelines online, and later on, with mobile apps and hard copies to distribute to school boards and doctors’ offices.
Ultimately, Zemek is hopeful the guidelines are only a baseline. As more research is produced, they’ll be updated to mirror the latest and best recommendations in treating concussion.