Research Shows Concussion Symptoms Don't Always Go Away

Research Shows Concussion Symptoms Don't Always Go Away

Most people think of concussions as scary, but temporary, injuries to the brain. Unfortunately, that’s not the experience of everyone who suffers from them. Many clients of ours have been frustrated by concussion symptoms which hang on for months or even years. Doctors even have a name for this: post-concussive syndrome, or PCS.

Nevertheless, one of the standard defense arguments about concussions or other “mild” traumatic brain injuries is that the symptoms almost always go away within six months or less. When faced with a injured person who has continuing problems, they will describe that person as an anomaly. Defense experts will say they can’t explain or understand why that person’s symptoms didn’t clear up. The unspoken suggestion in this testimony, naturally, is that people inevitably do get better, and that anyone who says otherwise is just faking it.

The truth is that research debunked this canard long ago. For example, a 2017 analysis of 45 prior studies of concussion patients found that 55-percent of them “demonstrated long term cognitive impairment.” These findings, the authors wrote, “highlight the need to carefully examine the long term implications” of even a one-time mild traumatic brain injury.

These were not the only worrisome findings. While one might expect symptoms to taper off after a period of months or years, the study found that symptoms can hang on indefinitely. While children who suffered concussions sometimes fared better than adults, the difference was small: 50-percent of kids had residual problems, while 58-percent of adults did.

The types of problems people suffered include executive function (basically higher thinking) which requires judgment and complex decision-making. Other deficits include learning and memory; processing speed, which basically means being able to think fast; and language function, which includes things like being able to find the right words when speaking. While more fortunate patients had these symptoms go away within a few weeks or months, a majority could not shake them.

No one knows why some people bounce back from TBIs and others do not. The brain is a tremendously complex and mysterious organ, and there is still much for us to learn about it. In the meantime, people who continue to feel their concussion symptoms months after a blow to the head shouldn’t think they’ve gone crazy. They are not what used to be called a “miserable minority.” Regrettably, they are the majority, and they shouldn’t be shy about seeking help.

For its part, the medical community should take concussion sufferers seriously and provide them appropriate care. Health care providers need to stop relying on old anecdotal evidence and understand that people can’t always “just get over it.”

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