Cognitive impairment following traumatic brain injury

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Opinion statement

  • Cognitive impairments due to traumatic brain injury (TBI) are substantial sources of morbidity for affected individuals, their family members, and society. Disturbances of attention, memory, and executive functioning are the most common neurocognitive consequences of TBI at all levels of severity. Disturbances of attention and memory are particularly problematic, as disruption of these relatively basic cognitive functions may cause or exacerbate additional disturbances in executive function, communication, and other relatively more complex cognitive functions.

  • Because of the high rate of other physical, neurologic, and psychiatric syndromes following TBI, a thorough neuropsychiatric assessment of the patient is a prerequisite to the prescription of any treatment for impaired cognition.

  • Psychostimulants and other dopaminergically active agents (eg, methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, amantadine, levodopa/carbidopa, bromocriptine) may modestly improve arousal and speed of information processing, reduce distractibility, and improve some aspects of executive function.

  • Cautious dosing (start-low and go-slow), frequent standardized assessment of effects and side effects, and monitoring for drug-drug interactions are recommended.

  • Cognitive rehabilitation is useful for the treatment of memory impairments following TBI. Cognitive rehabilitation may also be useful for the treatment of impaired attention, interpersonal communication skills, and executive function following TBI. This form of treatment is most useful for patients with mild to moderate cognitive impairments, and may be particularly useful for those who are still relatively functionally independent and motivated to engage in and rehearse these strategies.

  • Psychotherapy (eg, supportive, individual, cognitive-behavioral, group, and family) is an important component of treatment. For patients with medication- and rehabilitation-refractory cognitive impairments, psychotherapy may be needed to assist both patients and families with adjustment to permanent disability.