Sustained attention following traumatic brain injury: use of the Psychomotor Vigilance Task

Kelly L Sinclair, Jennie L Ponsford, Shantha M W Rajaratnam, Clare Anderson
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology 2013, 35 (2): 210-24

OBJECTIVE: Deficits in sustained attention are common following traumatic brain injury (TBI), as a result of primary (i.e., neuropathology) and/or secondary factors (i.e., fatigue, sleep disturbance, depressed mood). The extent to which secondary factors play a role in attention deficits is relatively unexamined. Moreover, the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT) is seldom used in TBI assessment despite its sensitivity to secondary factors observed following injury. The primary aim of the current study was to examine the usefulness of the auditory PVT in identifying attentional difficulties in patients with TBI compared with noninjured controls, and also to explore the impact of fatigue, sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness on sustained attention performances.

METHOD: Participants (n = 20 per group) completed the auditory PVT and self-report measures of fatigue, sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and depression.

RESULTS: Compared to controls, patients with TBI had widespread PVT deficits including slower response times, increased response variability and attention lapses, and delayed responding in the slowest 10% of responses. Distribution analyses suggested this was likely due to generalized cognitive slowing. Self-reported secondary factors had varying impacts on aspects of PVT performance, with self-reported fatigue exhibiting a more global impact on attention performance.

CONCLUSIONS: The auditory PVT is a sensitive measure of sustained attention deficits in patients with TBI, with aspects of performance influenced by fatigue, sleep disturbance, and depression.

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