Executive functioning in the first year after pediatric traumatic brain injury

Heather Whitney Sesma, Beth S Slomine, Ru Ding, Melissa L McCarthy
Pediatrics 2008, 121 (6): e1686-95

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Children with traumatic brain injuries often show impaired executive function (the ability to carry out goal-directed behavior). The Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, a caregiver-report questionnaire, measures executive function in everyday activities. In this study, our goal was to use the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function to document changes in children's executive function in the first year after traumatic brain injury and identify child, family, and injury variables associated with greater dysfunction. We predicted that children with traumatic brain injury would have more executive dysfunction than children hospitalized for orthopedic fractures and that more severe traumatic brain injury would predict greater dysfunction. Children's premorbid functioning and family characteristics were expected to moderate their executive function.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: Caregivers of children aged 5 to 15 years (330 mild-to-severe traumatic brain injury, 103 control orthopedic fractures) enrolled onto a longitudinal study of executive function. Caregivers completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function by telephone at baseline (obtained retrospectively) and 3 months and 1 year after the injury.

RESULTS: Traumatic brain injury groups and controls showed no baseline differences in Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function scores. Three months after the injury, children with traumatic brain injury had more dysfunction than controls on the Global Executive Composite. One year after injury, all traumatic brain injury groups differed from the controls on the Behavioral Regulation Index, Metacognition Index, and Global Executive Composite. The working memory scale was the only scale to discriminate between the control group and all 3 traumatic brain injury severity groups at both 3 and 12 months after injury. Executive-function ratings remained stable from 3 to 12 months after injury. Across time points, preexisting learning/behavior problems, lower respondent education, and poor family functioning predicted greater Global Executive Composite dysfunction.

CONCLUSIONS: Between 18% and 38% of the children with traumatic brain injury had significant executive dysfunction in the first year after injury, with greater dysfunction reported for children with more severe traumatic brain injury. Our findings support previous reports that preinjury learning and behavior problems, limited family resources, and poor family functioning adversely affect executive function. These results suggest a need for more systematic screening for executive dysfunction after traumatic brain injury to increase recognition of cognitive disability and improve access to appropriate services.

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