Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the most common cause of death in children. Even mild concussions can cause some degree of functional impairment. Many clinicians believe that the degree of impairment correlates with the initial Glasgow Coma Scale score (GCS), although this has only been shown in adults. This has led many hospitals to perform cognitive screening selectively, usually on adolescents with lower GCS scores.
A recent study by Goold and Vane at the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, and the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington looked at the correlation between GCS and level of impairment, and ways to determine which groups of adolescents need more sophisticated cognitive testing to evaluate deficits.
A total of 609 young adults age 13-21 with brain injuries were identified, and a cognitive screening test was performed (Occupational Therapy Head Injury Mini Screen [OT HIMS]). There was no correlation between GCS and the components of the OT HIMS. Interestingly, the GCS did not predict which patients were discharged to rehab centers either.
The Bottom Line: Adolescents can develop significant cognitive deficits or behavior issues after any degree of head injury. Because of this, it is not possible to selectively screen for cognitive deficits. All adolescents age 13-21 should undergo screening with an instrument like the OT HIMS after head injury.
At our Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, we consider a child to have a TBI if:
- the mechanism involves head impact and
- any of the following apply:
- known or suspected loss of consciousness
- cannot remember the event
- parents detect any change in behavior
All of these children undergo a TBI screen performed by Gillette Children’s Specialty Hospital physiatry, occupational and physical therapy services. If needed, they receive followup in the Gillette Minor Neurotrauma Clinic.
Reference: Goold D, Vane DW. Evaluation of Functionality After Head Injury in Adolescents. Journal of Trauma 2009;67:71-74.