Aging and long-term emotional distress after traumatic brain injury

Cyclist after Bike Crash

In the early days after a traumatic brain injury, when symptoms are most acute and much time is devoted to recovery and rehabilitation, survivors often do not realize the full extent of their limitations. Self-awareness is often limited in the early stages of recovery. As self-awareness recovers, the survivor gradually begins to understand the consequences of their injury and may often develop depression, anxiety, or other emotional distress.

Past studies have shown that increased age may also be associated with increased emotional distress after a traumatic brain injury. To better understand the relationship of age and time after injury with emotional response, researchers recently conducted a controlled study of traumatic brain injury survivors from 5 to 22 years after injury.

They found that age itself was not associated with emotional distress. Likewise, the amount of time past injury was, in itself, not associated with emotional distress. What the researchers did find was that there was an interaction between age and the amount of time after injury-with younger survivors showing increasingly higher levels of emotional distress as time passed.

The researchers suggested a few theories to explain this finding. Over time, younger people may become more distressed about their inability to complete life goals. Younger people may also be less likely to have established relationships that provide continued support as years pass. Survivors who were young at the time of injury, whether the injury was recent or from several years ago, should therefore be identified and evaluated for additional treatment.

Senathi-Raja D, Ponsford J, & Schonberger M. The association of age and time post injury with long-term emotional outcome following traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. (February 2010).