Attention and depressive symptoms in chronic phase after traumatic brain injury

Leena Himanen, Raija Portin, Olli Tenovuo, Tero Taiminen, Salla Koponen, Heli Hiekkanen, Hans Helenius
Brain Injury 2009, 23 (3): 220-7

OBJECTIVE: To study whether attention deficits differ between TBI (traumatic brain injury) patients with and without depressive symptoms.

METHOD: The study group (n = 61, mean age = 59 years) consisted of symptomatic TBI patients injured on average 30 years earlier. They were studied with a broad range of attention tasks including computerized methods. The patients were divided into those with depressive symptoms (n = 32) and those without (n = 29), according to the short form of the Beck depression scale with a cut-off score of 5. In addition, a diagnosis of major depression was applied according to the Schedules for Clinical Assessment in Neuropsychiatry (SCAN) (n = 6). The groups with depression or depressive symptoms were compared with the non-depressed TBI patients and with an age- and education-matched healthy control group (n = 31).

RESULTS: Cognitive methods that require flexibility (Trail making B, Card sorting, Word fluency) and working memory (Subtraction test) were sensitive to discriminate TBI patients without depressive symptoms from the control subjects (p < 0.001). Only a few methods were able to discriminate the TBI patients with depressive symptoms from those without (p < 0.001 for Simple reaction time, p < 0.003 for Vigilance test). The depressed TBI patients (assessed by SCAN) did not differ from the non-depressed TBI patients in attention functions.

CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that problems in complex attention processing are more specific to TBI, while slowness in simple psychomotor speed and impaired sustained attention may be mostly related to depressive symptoms in patients with chronic TBI sequelae.

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