Concussion and the Adolescent Brain

Key Points:

  • Adolescence can be difficult – you are dealing with a lot – give yourself credit.
  • A concussion can make things harder. Your mood, friendships, school can feel overwhelming because your brain is trying to grow and heal at the same time.
  • Get professional help for your symptoms if you are not feeling better within a couple of weeks.
  • Your brain takes longer to heal but is expected to heal.

What do we mean by adolescence?

Adolescence is the transition phase between childhood and adulthood. We use the terms teenagers, adolescents or youth to mean the age range of about 10-19.

What happens during adolescence?

In a nutshell – A LOT!

You transform from a child to a young adult. It is likely one of the most complex and confusing periods of your life.

  • This means physical growth, sexual maturation and puberty
  • Trying to figure out your place in society, learning, taking perspective, setting goals
  • Managing mixed emotions and experience
  • For some, exposure to drugs, alcohol, or risk taking
  • Forming friendships and relationships of your own
  • Developing your independence

Your Adolescent Brain

The adolescent brain is still not fully mature, and although you may feel at times you can handle the world, other times you may feel completely overwhelmed.

This is because your frontal lobes (the area of emotional control, planning, goal setting and organization), are not at all fully developed.

You are actively learning and changing every day.

Your brain is also more vulnerable to any injury and interruption of its daily activity. Scientists have shown that your recovery is not as fast as someone in their twenties from concussion.

Your Adolescent Brain and Concussion

A lot of changes occur in behaviours, feelings, ideas, and learning during your teen years. You may feel often emotionally on edge and have ups and downs even without a concussion. This is can be a lot to handle with school, parents, friends, romantic relationships. It can be overwhelming at the best of times.

With a concussion, we expect you to have mood changes, poor sleep, fatigue, difficulty learning, and it can be difficult to tease out what are concussion symptoms and what is normal adolescent behaviour, especially when someone experiences a prolonged recovery. Your ‘bad days’ may just feel a lot worse after a concussion. This is quite normal initially, but should improve within a few days to weeks.

Because the brain is still ‘under construction,' it will likely take you time to recover.

The Good News About Concussion

The good news is that most adolescents feel better within 1-2 weeks after a concussion, however up to 30% of teens still have some symptoms longer than one month.

Usually these symptoms, such as persistent headaches, poor sleep or frustration, can be treated successfully.

So it is important to be proactive and get help if symptoms do not improve after a few weeks.

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