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Parents, We're Caring for Kids' Concussions All Wrong

A new survey finds parents are treating kids' concussions using outdated advice, and may actually be hindering their recovery.

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We already know that a staggering number of kids suffer from concussions each year. But now a new survey finds most parents are caring for this far-too-common head injury all wrong.

The national survey, commissioned by Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says parents are using outdated advice about how to treat concussions, including that:

• 84 percent would restrict any physical activity for their child in the week following the injury.

• More than half would limit screen-time on electronics.

• 3 out of 4 parents would wake their child throughout the night to check on symptoms.

I'll admit these steps seem pretty rational to me, but in fact, Dr. Christopher Giza, a pediatric neurologist and director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, says caring for a concussion in this manner may actually hinder recovery!

"In the past, there was often a tendency to downplay the significance of concussions," he said in a press release, adding, "now some parents go too far the other direction and despite their best intentions, they can inadvertently complicate their child's recovery."

Instead, Dr. Giza and other UCLA experts recommend that kids who have been diagnosed with concussions should remain active, social, and get lots of sleep.

Safe forms of exercise include low-impact activities like walking, swimming laps, and jogging on a treadmill, according to Dr. Giza. And it's even okay for kids to engage in some screen time, so they don't feel isolated from social circles. But wait! Get this: While many parents have been told that letting a kid to go to sleep with a concussion can result in brain swelling (yup, heard that one!), if you're still waking a child up throughout the night more than a week post-injury, you're doing more harm than good.

Overall, the best way to treat a concussion is to allow your child to rest at first, and you would most certainly want to protect your child from contact risk, but then, it really is advisable to ease them back into cognitive, physical, and social activity.

Parents.com asked Dr. Giza what warning signs to look for that your child needs to slow down post-concussion. "Doctors routinely evaluate things like headache, dizziness, balance, mood, memory, and energy level to gauge how well a child is recovering from a concussion," he said, but cautioned, "Just like there's no single test to diagnose concussion, there's also no single test to monitor for concussion recovery."

Every child is different, but according to Dr. Giza, most concussion symptoms will subside within two to three weeks. He stressed, "The idea is to give them initial rest, but then start easing them back into activity, such as reading and thinking and eventually non-contact physical activity."

He added: "No one ever got a concussion from doing homework!"

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.