Connection Between TBI and Secondary ADHD in Children

Child TBI

A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicated that very young children who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) were 3.6 times more likely to develop secondary ADHD in the years following the injury, as long as 6.8 years after the injury according to research conducted by Megan E. Narad, Ph.D. and others.

While other research has followed children with TBI to see how attention may be affected by such an injury, no other study to date has followed the children as long as this study—7-10 years post TBI. Previous studies had only followed children two to three years following the TBI, so Narad’s research has provided new information for families and the medical/legal communities.

TBI and ADHD in Children

In a recent interview with Med Page Today, Narad asserted, “Children with a history of traumatic brain injuries – even those with less severe injuries – have an increased risk for the development of new-onset attention problems, potentially many years after injury.”

While there is still a great deal to be learned about the connection between traumatic brain injury and a child’s attention functioning and capacity, we know that children who have suffered a TBI will often show signs of impairment when presented with tasks of increasing complexity and awareness.

How great are the chances of experiencing impairment following TBI? Most young children with a history of TBI have a 20% chance of developing secondary ADHD.

For this particular study, 187 children between the ages of three and seven were studied by being kept overnight in four different Ohio hospitals from January 2003 to June 2008. One group had TBI and the other group—a control group—had an orthopedic injury (a fracture, specifically). The children in the control group had experienced a bone fracture but had no signs or symptoms of traumatic brain injury, and one of the children had a previous history of ADHD.

Over the course of the study, parents assessed their children, who had an average age of 5.1 years at the following times following the child’s TBI:

  • 0-3 months
  • 6 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 3.4 years
  • 6.8 years

The Findings

Secondary ADHD was present in 25.7% of the 187 children. The risk of secondary ADHD increased with the level of TBI severity compared with the control group. All TBI groups (low, moderate, complicated), showed almost double the risk for ADHD compared with the children in the control group, although the affected children did not meet the threshold for statistical significance.

Even more alarming is that the research showed that most of the children developed secondary ADHD within 18 months after a severe TBI, while some of those children with complicated mild or moderate TBI demonstrated later onset of secondary ADHD (as many as several years later).

While the medical ramifications of TBI are still being studied and the vast, often devastating results of these injuries are still being learned, we have enough information now to know that there are long-term, permanent negative effects of TBI. If your child has suffered a traumatic brain injury, please speak to a brain injury attorney in your area today.

Lynn Shapiro About Lynn Shapiro

Lynn Shapiro is a former business and medical reporter who currently covers legal news for and American Legal News.