Mental fatigue and depression after traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of injury and death worldwide. Many people who sustain a TBI will experience physical and psychological deficits as a result of their injury. One commonly reported complication is mental fatigue, which is associated with impaired work capacity and with reduced attention span. Because these factors can seriously reduce an individual’s quality of life, researchers are interested in discovering new methods for diagnosing, treating, and preventing TBI-related mental fatigue.

A recent Swedish study sought to understand the relationship between mental fatigue and the location of brain damage. To determine the location of brain damage, they examined brain imaging scans of 61 adults who had sustained a TBI. Next, the researchers assessed the participants’ mental fatigue by administering the Mental Fatigue Scale (MFS) and gathered additional data about the participants’ psychological state with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). After analyzing the results, they found that:

  • Participants who sustained TBI in the back of the brain were more likely to experience mental fatigue than those who sustained TBI in the frontal and subcortical areas of the brain.
  • Fewer participants who had a TBI-related stroke experienced mental fatigue.
  • Not all fatigued participants experienced depression. However, all participants who exhibited depression also reported fatigue.

Depression is common after TBI, and this psychological disorder accounts for a significant amount of mental fatigue after injury. Furthermore, people who sustain injuries to certain areas of the brain may be at higher risk for developing depression and mental fatigue. Clinicians are advised to consider mental fatigue and depression as separate but related conditions, and they should remain watchful for signs of mental fatigue to ensure that patients with TBI experience a fast and full return to a high quality of life.

Holmqvist A, Berthold Lindstedt M, & Möller MC, et al. Relationship between fatigue after acquired brain injury and depression, injury localization and aetiology: An explorative study in a rehabilitative setting. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. (May 2018).


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