Children focus of head injury research

Research already indicates that the rate of brain injury in New Zealand may be much higher than suspected.

However, at Waikato University work is now underway to identify the impacts of those injuries, particularly on the long-term health and wellbeing of children and young people.

Senior Lecturer in psychology, Dr Nicola Starkey, is heading research into what has been dubbed "the invisible epidemic"/ Along with colleagues from AUT, Auckland University and the Waikato District Health Board, she has been studying traumatic brain injury.

"Around 24,000 New Zealanders each year suffer from mild brain injury," Dr. Starkey says.

"Unfortunately however, it's not always taken seriously. Some people say, 'oh it's just a concussion'. They're wrong. It's not 'just concussion'. It's an injury to the brain."

The research has been funded by the Health Research Council and Lotteries Grants Board and involves the first longitudinal study in New Zealand of children who have suffered brain injury.

It's one of the largest studies of its type in the world and is unique as most similar studies focus only on those admitted to hospital. This research focuses on the effects of mild injury and to date, has involved more than 100 children and young people.

"Studying the long-term impact of brain injury in children can be quite difficult because we can't isolate that injury from everything else going on in their lives," Dr. Starkey says. "And of course, brains aren't fully developed until the age of 25."

"But there is a lot of evidence already that having a brain injury can alter social functioning and it is the long-term social and healthcare implications that we are particularly interested in."

Supported by the Health Research Council and Lotteries Grants Board.