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Traumatic Brain Injury

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Full Title: Rehabilitation for Traumatic Brain Injury

December 1998

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Structured Abstract

Objective: To examine the evidence for effectiveness of rehabilitation methods at various phases in the course of recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI) in adults. Specifically, we addressed five questions about the effectiveness of:

  1. Early rehabilitation in the acute care setting.
  2. Intensity of acute inpatient rehabilitation.
  3. Cognitive rehabilitation.
  4. Supported employment.
  5. Care coordination (case management).

Search Strategy: A MEDLINE® search (1976 to 1997), supplemented by searches of HealthSTAR (1995 to 1997), CINAHL (1982 to 1997), PsycINFO (1984 to 1997), and reference lists of key articles.

Selection Criteria: Broad inclusion criteria were defined for screening eligible abstracts. Two reviewers read each abstract to determine its eligibility. Full articles were included if they met methodologic criteria and were relevant to one of the causal links identified for each major question. Specifically, we included all comparative (controlled) studies, as well as uncontrolled series that had information about the short- or long-term outcomes associated with rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury.

Data Collection and Analysis: We developed an instrument to record data abstracted from each eligible article. The instrument includes items for patient characteristics, interventions, co-interventions, outcomes, study methods, relevance to the specific research questions, and results of the study. We used a three-level system to rate individual studies. Well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were rated as Class I. RCTs with design flaws, well-done, prospective, quasiexperimental or longitudinal studies, and case-control studies were rated as Class II. Case reports, uncontrolled case series, and expert or consensus opinion were generally rated Class III. Comparative studies that met inclusion criteria were critically appraised and summarized in evidence tables.

Main Results: A total of 3,098 references were specified for inclusion. After removal of duplicates, 569 applied to questions 1 and 2, 600 applied to question 3, 392 applied to question 4, and 975 applied to question 5. Eighty-seven articles pertaining to questions 1 and 2, 114 articles for question 3, 93 articles for question 4, and 69 articles for question 5 passed the eligibility screen. Sixty-seven additional articles were recommended for inclusion by experts or were obtained from reference lists of review articles.

There was weak evidence from Class III studies that early rehabilitation during the acute admission reduces the rehabilitation length of stay. Studies of the intensity of acute inpatient rehabilitation had inconsistent results and used study designs that, despite appropriate use of statistical methods to adjust for severity, had serious limitations because of confounders.

Controlled trials of cognitive rehabilitation had mixed results, with the strongest evidence (Class I) supporting the use of prosthetic aids to memory. Well-done, prospective observational studies (Class II) support the use of supported employment within the context of well-designed, well-coordinated programs. From one Class II clinical trial, there was no support for case management, but two well-done Class III studies support the use of case management to produce functional improvements.

Conclusions: Population-based studies are needed to examine the overall impact of TBI and the differences in outcomes associated with different rehabilitation strategies. Future studies of cognitive rehabilitation and case management should focus on health outcomes of importance to people with TBI and their families.

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Rehabilitation for Traumatic Brain Injury

Evidence-based Practice Center: Oregon Health & Science University
Topic Nominators: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Brain Injury Association

Current as of December 1998


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