Brain Boost: For people who have persistent symptoms after a traumatic brain injury

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A new therapy for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) shows promise for improving cognitive function, reducing depression and stress, and boosting blood flow to important areas of the brain, according to a small study by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas in Dallas published online last May in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

A group of 60 men and women between the ages of 19 and 65 who had sustained at least one TBI were randomly assigned to receive either an educational, information-based program about how the brain works or a brain training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART). SMART teaches participants how to block out irrelevant details, break down and summarize information, and think more creatively.

All of the participants were rated as having a mild TBI; 47 were civilians and 13 were veterans. More than two-thirds had sustained the injury at least 10 years earlier, so the researchers didn't have specifics on their concussion history. All had persistent symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Both programs involved 18 hours of training during 12 group sessions over 12 weeks.

The group of 31 patients who received the cognitive training improved their scores on a memory test by more than 30 percent, and their “complex abstraction” scores—their ability to understand big ideas and take-home messages—improved by more than 20 percent. They also reported a 60 percent reduction in symptoms of depression and a 40 percent reduction in symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder. In addition, brain imaging showed enhanced blood flow to areas of the brain linked to abstract thinking, cognitive performance, and emotional regulation of stress.

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