For veterans with traumatic brain injury, cognitive condition is a stronger predictor of successful community reintegration than physical performance

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the most common injuries among American service members: in the last decade alone, almost a quarter of a million veterans have sustained TBI. Veterans who return to the United States with head injuries often experience physical, cognitive, and psychological deficits, which can limit their ability to reintegrate into the community.

Because successful community reintegration is critical for veterans’ quality of life and ability to return to work, researchers are interested in understanding – and mitigating – the challenges that service members may face upon returning home. To this end, a recent study in Maryland examined the association between physical impairment, cognitive deficits, and community reintegration. Using a battery of surveys and assessments, researchers measured the physical and cognitive abilities of 26 veterans who sustained mild TBI while overseas. They found that:

  • Veterans with balance deficits were more likely to have poor executive function and affective regulation. In other words, individuals with problems balancing and walking were also likely to experience poorer cognitive abilities and emotional control.
  • Successful community integration was strongly associated with better cognition and emotional regulation.
  • Gait and balance alone were not significantly correlated with successful community reintegration.

TBI is prevalent among American service members, and the Veterans Health Administration recognizes that TBI treatment and rehabilitation strategies are a critical part of the reintegration process. Understanding the physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges that veterans may endure as a result of TBI allows clinicians to develop targeted treatment programs and ensure that returning service members achieve optimal quality of life.

Leland A, Tavakol K, Scholten J, et al. Affective and cognitive conditions are stronger predictors of success with community reintegration than gait and balance performance in veterans with mild traumatic brain injury. Medical Archives. (December 2017).

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