Neurocognitive tests measure people's cognitive functionï¿½how well they think, learn, perceive and process information, make decisions. The tests cover
intellect, attention, memory, motor skill, and other areas that depend on healthy brain function. In a study of 760 Army soldiers who had suffered mild
traumatic brain injury in Iraq, VA researchers and colleagues in Boston found that milder TBIs typically have "limited lasting neuropsychological
consequences." On the other hand, posttraumatic stress disorder and depression, when not treated effectively, can have longer-term impacts on cognitive
Psychologist Jennifer Vasterling, PhD, and her team compared neuropsychological results from before and after the soldiers were deployed. They used a
variety of tests and questionnaires to tease out which effects were due to TBI, and which to other factors, such as PTSD and depression.
"The take-home message for Veterans and their family members is that recovery from mild TBI can be influenced by a number of factors in addition to the
actual brain damage," says Vasterling. "This is good news because some contributing factors may be modifiable."
She says PTSD and depression are likely to be among the factors that can slow recovery after TBI. Treating or managing the two conditions is "critical in
its own right," says Vasterling, but doing so is also likely to help restore function following mild TBI.
"It may be that swift and effective psychiatric and psychosocial intervention may have broad effects by not only alleviating emotional distress but by also
proving an important secondary benefit in terms of reversing deployment-related neuropsychological decrements," wrote Vasterling's team.
Vasterling notes that the study involved soldiers who had suffered TBIs but were healthy enough to still be on active duty. The results might be different
with troops or Veterans with more severe or repeated TBIs and other serious medical problems. (British Journal of Psychiatry, September 2012)