During the winter months, especially in northern climates, parents bundle up their children in preparation for winter activities such as tobogganing, ice skating and ice hockey, and skiing. In addition to layers of warm clothing, gloves and boots, parents often use whatever athletic headgear is available to mitigate the potential hazards of winter sports and play. Currently no helmets are specifically designed to protect children's heads from the stresses and forces that may be encountered in activities such as those mentioned above.
That fact led researchers at the University of Ottawa and Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Ottawa, Canada) to undertake a laboratory investigation to see just how well available protective headgear would fare when used for winter activities. Their focus was on helmets used to protect the heads of children younger than seven years of age. The headgear tested included bicycle, ice hockey, and alpine ski helmets, because these are reportedly the helmets most commonly used to protect small children during winter activities. Findings of the study can be found in the article "Performance analysis of winter activity protection headgear for young children.
Blaine Hoshizaki, PhD, and colleagues used a monorail drop tower to simulate the types of impact that can be sustained by a child's head during mishaps in tobogganing. The various helmets were mounted on a head form representing the skull of a six-year-old child. The motion of the "head" within the helmet when impact occurred was measured using accelerometers and recorded for a comparison of the protection afforded by the different helmets. The researchers looked at both low-velocity impacts (such as those occurring in a short fall) and high-velocity impacts (such as those sustained when a child slides downhill into an object). Impacts coming from the front and side were examined, as were linear and angular accelerations.
At lower-velocity impacts (2 to 6 meters per second) the ice-hockey helmet was the most protective. At high-velocity impacts (8 meters per second) the bicycle helmet was more protective. In general, the alpine ski helmet did not protect "children's heads" during falls and slides as well as the other headgear tested, a finding that was surprising to the authors since skiing involves the potential for both types of injuries.
No winner was identified by testing. No helmet performed adequately for all impacts studied. Thus the authors could not endorse a type of helmet to be used by small children during winter activities. Instead, they state that the findings of the study highlight the need for a new type of winter play helmet that can withstand both low- and high-velocity impacts -- one that can protect the young child's developing brain from potentially grave injury.
This research was funded by ThinkFirst Canada, as represented by Dr. Vassilyadi, a co-author of this paper.
Materials provided by American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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