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Teens’ Mental Abilities can Improve Post Traumatic Brain Injury

Update Date: Jun 11, 2014 09:22 AM EDT

Traumatic brain injuries can be highly debilitating for children and teenagers. For years, doctors and experts believed that young patients suffering from these injuries had a time span of just one year to regain and improve their mental abilities. Now, according to a new study, researchers found that with targeted brain training, cognitive performance can improve months to years after the injury.

The study conducted at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas examined the brain health of 20 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20. The adolescents had all suffered from some kind of traumatic brain injury at least six months before the start of the study and had "gist reasoning deficits," which meant that the adolescents had difficult understanding the "essence" of dense information. The sample was divided into two treatment groups. The first one used strategy-based gist reasoning training and the other used fact-based memory training.

Over the time span of one month, the adolescents participated in eight, 45-minute sessions. The researcher tested the adolescents' ability to abstract meaning and recall facts. The team discovered that the adolescents from the gist reasoning training group had improvement in their ability to abstract meanings whereas children from the other group did not. Participants from the gist reasoning training group were better able to recall facts as well.

"These preliminary results are promising in that higher-order cognitive training that focuses on 'big picture' thinking improves cognitive performance in ways that matter to everyday life success," said Dr. Lori Cook. "What we found was that training higher-order cognitive skills can have a positive impact on untrained key executive functions as well as lower-level, but also important, processes such as straightforward memory, which is used to remember details."

The researchers stressed the importance of following up with brain injury patients for a longer period of time to monitor growth. They added that more targeted brain training therapies could help these types of patients recover faster and more efficiently.

Dr. Cook added in the press release, "While the study sample was small and a larger trial is needed, the real-life application of this training program is especially important for adolescents who are at a very challenging life-stage when they face major academic and social complexities. These cognitive challenges require reasoning, filtering, focusing, planning, self-regulation, activity management and combating 'information overload,' which is one of the chief complaints that teens with concussions express."

The study was published in the journal, Frontiers in Neurology.

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