Concussion Can Reduce Reading Speed and Comprehension

Nearly three million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. The majority of these TBIs are considered mild (more commonly known as concussions), and most people will fully recover within weeks to months of injury. However, the acute post-injury phase is associated with a number of symptoms that can significantly limit a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks, such as headache, fatigue, blurry vision, nausea, poor sleep, and cognitive deficits. Impaired cognition in particular, which often includes language and communication deficits, can prevent success at school, at work, or in social environments. Consequently, there is an urgent need to identify the effects of concussion on communication and to develop treatments that can mitigate these impairments.

Although many researchers have investigated the relationship between concussion and spoken communication skills, few studies have focused on reading comprehension and reading speed, which may be especially important for school-aged youth working adults. A recent study addressed this gap by studying reading abilities among three groups of patients: adults with concussion and brain tissue damage, adults with concussion and without brain tissue damage, and a comparison group of adults without any TBI.

Each group completed the Chapman-Cook Speed of Reading Test (CCSRT), which assesses reading speed and comprehension, and the Digital-Symbol Coding portion of the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-III), which assesses speed of information processing. An experienced team of speech-language pathologists and neuroscientists analyzed the results of each assessment, finding that the uninjured group performed significantly better on the CCSRT and the WAIS-III than both of the concussion groups. However, there were no significant differences in reading comprehension between the two concussion groups.

These findings indicate that a concussion can significantly impair a person’s reading speed and comprehension. Furthermore, these deficits occur even when brain imaging techniques do not detect injury-related damage to the brain tissue, suggesting that brain imaging cannot accurately predict reading deficits following a concussion. Clinicians are encouraged to provide all of their TBI patients—even those with very minor injuries—with adequate supports and services (such as referral to a speech-language pathologist) to address potential reading deficits during the recovery period.

Tabet S, LeBlanc J, Frenette LC, et al. Early reading comprehension and speed of reading impairment in individuals with uncomplicated and complicated mild traumatic brain injury. Journal of Communication Disorders. (September 2020).

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