Concussion research suggests longer recovery time for learning

New research on brain concussions in high school students suggests the timetable on how quickly students should return to school should be changed. It also shows the recovery period is much longer than previously thought.

Every state now has brain concussion rules telling student athletes when they can return to play, but only nine states have rules guiding when they should return to learn.

“And so return to learn means how can we have a guided return that slowly allows students to do more over time until they are doing everything they were doing before their concussion occurred,” said Katy O’Brien, a University of Georgia Concussion Researcher.

Professor O’Brien says those students need more time. At the annual Brain Injury Conference in Brooklyn Center, O’Brien says her research among brain-injured high school students showed the majority of them are returning to the classroom just one day after their concussions.

“So we typically say now 2-3 days after an injury, back in school is fine,” said O’Brien. “However, we want students returning at moderate levels of activity. So, that might mean you are not returning to everything you were doing before. That means you might not be doing all of your assignments, maybe not all of your math items, you’re only doing the odd numbers.”  

The research also showed the students reporting academic problems. They said they forgot information, needed to review class materials more often, tasks were harder and they were more easily distracted.

“And some of those surprised us,” said O’Brien. “An example of one that students commonly reported was problems with reading. And students don’t just read to read, they read to learn. So, this is kind of a critical component for their learning and they’re reporting struggling with that.”  

Recovery is not a matter of days or two weeks, but perhaps even longer.

“Our students were reporting problems of up to a month and even beyond a month that they were still recovering from their injury,” she said.  

Professor O’Brien says there needs to be a bigger emphasis on returning to learning after a concussion. She says states have great rules on the athletic aspects of recovery and now they have to catch up to the student academics side of the injury.