Gender differences in awareness and outcomes during acute traumatic brain injury recovery

Janet P Niemeier, Paul B Perrin, Megan G Holcomb, Cynthia D Rolston, Laura K Artman, Juan Lu, Karine S Nersessova
Journal of Women's Health 2014, 23 (7): 573-80

BACKGROUND: Recent literature on traumatic brain injury (TBI), though mixed when reporting outcomes, seems collectively to suggest possible gender advantage for women in postinjury recovery, especially in executive functions. Hormonal neuroprotection, through female reproductive hormones, is often proposed as an underlying factor in these results. We explored potential gender differences in an aspect of executive functions, self-awareness (SA), which is often impaired after TBI, limits patient effort in critical rehabilitation, and increases caregiver burden.

METHODS: Within a prospective survey, repeated-measures design, 121 patients with moderate or severe TBI undergoing acute rehabilitation in a Level 1 trauma center, a family member or caregiver informant, and a treating clinician were asked to complete the Patient Competency Rating Scale (PCRS) and the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale (FrSBe) at admission and discharge.

RESULTS: Although overall, women and men with TBI showed generally similar levels of SA, women had significantly better awareness of their injury-related deficits at acute rehabilitation discharge, even when controlling for age, education, and injury severity.

CONCLUSIONS: Mixed findings in this study mirror the pattern of results that dominate the published literature on gender and TBI. Gender differences in executive dysfunction may not be as large or robust as some researchers argue. In addition, complex interplays of socialization, gender-role expectations, naturally occurring male and female ability differences, and differences in access to postinjury rehabilitation are understudied potential moderators.

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