Head injuries can make children loners

New research has found that a child's relationships may be a hidden casualty long after a head injury.

Neuroscientists at Brigham Young University studied a group of children three years after each had suffered a – most commonly from car accidents. The researchers found that lingering in a specific region of the brain predicted the health of the children's social lives.

"The thing that's hardest about is that someone can have significant difficulties but they still look okay," said Shawn Gale, a neuropsychologist at BYU. "But they have a harder time remembering things and focusing on things as well and that affects the way they interact with other people. Since they look fine, people don't cut them as much slack as they ought to."

Gale and Ph.D. student Ashley Levan authored a study to be published April 10 by the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, the leading publication in the field of rehabilitation. The study compared the children's social lives and thinking skills with the thickness of the brain's outer layer in the . The brain measurements came from MRI scans and the social information was gathered from parents on a variety of dimensions, such as their children's participation in groups, number of friends and amount of time spent with friends.

A second finding from the new study suggests one potential way to help. The BYU scholars found that physical injury and social withdrawal are connected through something called "cognitive proficiency." Cognitive proficiency is the combination of short-term memory and the brain's processing speed.

"In social interactions we need to process the content of what a person is saying in addition to simultaneously processing nonverbal cues," Levan said. "We then have to hold that information in our working memory to be able to respond appropriately. If you disrupt working memory or processing speed it can result in difficulty with social interactions."

Separate studies on children with ADHD, which also affects the frontal lobes, show that therapy can improve working memory. Gale would like to explore in future research with BYU's MRI facility if improvements in working memory could "treat" the social difficulties brought on by .

"This is a preliminary study but we want to go into more of the details about why and processing speed are associated with social functioning and how specific structures might be related to improve outcome," Gale said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Are concussions related to Alzheimer's disease?

Dec 26, 2013

A new study suggests that a history of concussion involving at least a momentary loss of consciousness may be related to the buildup of Alzheimer's-associated plaques in the brain. The research is published in the December ...

Memory's crucial impact on maintaining social bonds

Mar 04, 2014

Memory's crucial impact on our ability to establish and maintain social bonds is the focus of a new book, "Examining the Role of Memory in Social Cognition" (Frontiers), edited by Cornell neuroscientist Nathan Spreng.

Green tea boosts your brain

Apr 07, 2014

Green tea is said to have many putative positive effects on health. Now, researchers at the University of Basel are reporting first evidence that green tea extract enhances the cognitive functions, in particular ...

Recommended for you

Emotional adjustment following traumatic brain injury

Oct 24, 2014

Life after a traumatic brain injury resulting from a car accident, a bad fall or a neurodegenerative disease changes a person forever. But the injury doesn't solely affect the survivor – the lives of their spouse or partner ...

New ALS associated gene identified using innovative strategy

Oct 22, 2014

Using an innovative exome sequencing strategy, a team of international scientists led by John Landers, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has shown that TUBA4A, the gene encoding the Tubulin Alpha 4A protein, ...

User comments