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Bumps on the head can have long-term impact


Dr Donnelly is available for interview by first phoning Zoe Satherley
13 April 2010
Long after a child or adolescent has recovered from the initial impact of a big bump on the head, he or she may continue to have persistent problems with attention, emotions and thinking.

Dr James Donnelly, a clinical and neuro-psychologist and a lecturer and researcher at Southern Cross University, has long been investigating mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion, in children and adults.

He will present a summary of research and clinical findings in this field at a free public lecture in Coffs Harbour this Friday, April 16, at 3.30pm in room D-350 (D-block lecture theatre) at the Coffs Harbour campus. The talk will also be linked by video-conference to lecture hall P-158, on the Lismore campus.

“Headaches, dizziness and other typical concussion symptoms may subside, but for some young people, there can be ongoing problems after a head injury, even after what seems like a minor head injury,” Dr Donnelly said.

Dr Donnelly collected the first pre-injury baseline data on children and adolescents in Australia. He then used this baseline data to assess the effects of subsequent sports-related concussions.

His work with young people has been supported for several years by a New York company, Headminder Inc, which works with professional and university athletes. The testing program is administered via the internet so has the potential to be used in rural and regional areas, connecting these communities to specialist care.

Consistent with prior reports on post-injury only findings in the US and Australia, Dr Donnelly’s results indicated that some children had persistent problems in attention, mood and thinking long after typical concussion symptoms subsided.

Dr Donnelly’s talk will examine the controversial literature on defining concussions and their effects and describe a program of clinical practice designed to more clearly assess concussion recovery.

“The challenge is to sensitively detect which children require additional help or more time to recover before returning to contact sports, as most children seemingly recover from concussions without long-term negative effects,” Dr Donnelly emphasised.

“I will also describe some cognitive rehabilitation strategies found to be effective in supporting children and adolescents who have suffered concussions.

“These strategies can help parents and teachers support the injured child so that risk for school and social problems is minimised. For example, changing how a child studies for exams can improve memory and test performance when a concussion has interfered with how they previously used to learn.

“We are hoping to attract some funding from State agencies so we can assist in the management of concussion in athletes in the NSW academies of sport and in local schools.”

Dr Donnelly earned his Honours degree in biological sciences at the University of California at Irvine, then a Masters and PhD in clinical psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. He went on to complete more specialised training in neuro-psychology at the University of California in San Francisco, seeing patients and conducting clinical research with older adults and children.

He served for three years as head of psychology and neuropsychology at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick before moving to Southern Cross University in 2009.

Photo: Dr James Donnelly, who will deliver a talk about the latest research and clinical findings on mild traumatic brain injury at Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour campus on Friday. Media and members of the public can attend the event, or the video conference at the Lismore campus.