It is a practice to see some parents hit their children on the head when angry. Although, such blow on the head may not in themselves cause a disease, experts confirm that some certain number of hits/knocks to the head, could affect brain, memory and thinking abilities in children.
Granted, your child might have done something bad. It is also possible that the child’s actions or behaviour demands that he or she be spanked or scolded. Even though what might qualify as appropriate punishment for a badly behaved child is wide-ranging, from a light slap on the hand to an all-out whipping with a belt or a paddle, but it requires that we shouldn’t and most especially not hit them on the head. There are various ways in which children can be punished effectively, not including knocking on the head or hitting the child’s head against the wall or floor.
Small hits to the head or repeated blows to the head are never a good idea. Over time, it could affect brain, memory and thinking. New research suggests that even when they do not cause mild brain injury, what is medically called “concussion”; this may over time, affect the brain’s white matter and impact cognition, memory and thinking abilities. No doubt, more talks are usually about head injuries in athletes on the playing field, in car and bicycle accidents, in fights, and even minor falls. Not much consideration is given to parents or carers that punish children by slapping or hitting their heads.
Although, such an act may not make the child lose consciousness. Medical experts warned that repeated blows to the head may lead to worrying consequences, including increased susceptibility to concussion, long-term cognitive decline and chronic “traumatic encephalopathy” – a degenerative disease associated with people who have suffered multiple head injuries.
Although, for a brain injury to occur as a result of hitting a child on the head, its force must really be much.
Dr Achiaka Irabor, a Consultant Family physician, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, said, beating a child on the head is not really necessary when the child could be spanked on other parts of the body such as the hands, thigh and buttocks, if need be.
According to Dr Irabor, “if someone is hit on the head and the person becomes confused or dazed, then that force is strong and this may cause concussion or mild brain damage.”
She declared: “You should not hit a child on the head with a stick, pestle or even a ruler. If you use your hand at least, the pain that you feel on the hand will limit the amount of force that you put on the child’s head.”
Moreover, Dr Irabor pointed out that “even a knock can be very painful and people can have headache after receiving a knock on their head.”
For this study, published in the journal, Neurology, researchers compared 80 concussion-free Division 1 NCAA Dartmouth College varsity football and ice hockey players, all of whom wore helmets that recorded the acceleration time of the head following impact, with 79 athletes competing in non-contact activities, such as track, crew and Nordic skiing. Participants were assessed with learning and memory tests, and they had brain scans before and shortly after the season finished.
The researchers found differences in the white matter of the brain in these college contact sport athletes compared to non-contact sport varsity athletes. White matter plays an important role in the speed of nerve signals in the brain tissue and allows different parts of the brain to communicate with each other.
The degree of white matter change in the contact sport athletes was greater in those who performed more poorly than expected on tests of memory and learning, suggesting a possible link in some athletes between how hard/often they are hit, white matter changes, and cognition, or memory and thinking abilities. Some brain regions in some athletes were also altered by repetitive impacts over the course of a season, and these changes may be related to verbal learning and memory.
The study also identified a subgroup of athletes who performed worse than expected on verbal learning and memory tests at the end of the season.
These athletes came from both the contact and non-contact groups – 20% of the contact players and 11% of the non-contact players.
Paradoxically, little blows to the head can add up to big risks, even a continuous habit of hitting a child on the head. A growing body of evidence suggests that repetitive head trauma may increase the risk of a variety of progressive brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and the muscle-wasting condition, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
A study by the Purdue Neurotrauma Group at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind, which also corroborated this, suggested that the effects of blows to the head, while playing football, for example, may last longer than previously thought. During this time, players’ brains are vulnerable because the blows that result in the field of play could result in a mild brain injury.
The researchers studied a group of high school players over two seasons. They calculated that the players received 200 to 1,900 head blows each season.
They got these numbers from the special helmets that each participating player wore.
Sensors inside the helmet catalogued the hits taken, the force of the impact, and the region of the head that was struck. The players also underwent brain scans so that the researchers could compare the data from the helmets with the effect that each blow had on the players’ brains.
This study, which was the first to look at the accumulation of sub-concussive blows and their effect on the brain, reported that over the course of the two seasons, six of the players suffered concussions, while the scans of 17 of the players showed changes in brain function that the researchers could tie to the hits on their heads.
No doubt, more research is required to determine the long term impact of blow to the head, given that changes to the brain are not necessarily indicative of damage, but the fact remains that different children are likely to have different injury thresholds. Some may be able to withstand more hits than others.
But a growing body of evidence suggests that repetitive head injury may increase the risk of a variety of progressive brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and the muscle-wasting condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.