Prevalence and Costs
An estimated 5.3 million Americans currently live with disabilities that resulted from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Each year, 1.5 million Americans (2% of the population) sustain a TBI, with a new case added every 21 seconds. This leads to 80,000 new cases of long-term disability and 50,000 deaths. The leading causes are car accidents (44%) and falls (26%). The costs in the US are estimated at $48.3 billion a year.
Commonly reported cognitive and psychological consequences include difficulties with ‘‘orientation/concentration, overload-breakdown of comprehension, reasoning and problem solving, organizational skills, rate of processing, rate of performance, perseveration (a tendency to repeat a response or activity after it has proven ineffective), staying on task/topic, initiation/motivation, generalization, agitation, fatigue, stress and memory.
Efficacy of Standard Intervention Programs
The research literature on memory improvement in patients with brain injury generally has found minimal to mixed results for several intervention approaches.
Memory is not improved by simple, repetitive practice or by repetitive recall drills. Specific techniques, such as visualization, method of loci, and cognitive strategies, have shown different degrees of effectiveness. Researchers generally agree that the subject does not continue the use of the strategy after treatment ends. Significant improvements from internal memory aids, such as imagery instructions, are used less than external memory aids, but patients on their own generally use neither.
More recent reviews of the literature report similar mixed to negative conclusions on the efficacy of cognitive rehabilitation therapy for memory and other areas of cognition and behavior. In their exhaustive review, Carney et al concluded that ‘‘specific forms of cognitive rehabilitation reduce memory failures (notebook training/electronic cueing devices—results didn’t hold 6 months post treatment) and anxiety, and improve self-concept and interpersonal relationships for persons with TBI.’’ A recent Defense and Veteran’s Head Injury program study did not find any significant improvement on their measures as a result of cognitive rehabilitation (compared with control group) in patients with moderate to severe TBI.
In conclusion, no definitive scientific evidence indicates that cognitive rehabilitation leads to sustained improvements in memory.