New Data on TBI Show Its Chronic, Evolving

New longitudinal data from the TRACK TBI investigators show that recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a dynamic process that continues to evolve well beyond the initial 12 months after injury.

The data show that patients with TBI may continue to improve or decline during a period of up to 7 years after injury, making it more of a chronic condition, the investigators report.

“Our results dispute the notion that TBI is a discrete, isolated medical event with a finite, static functional outcome following a relatively short period of upward recovery (typically up to 1 year),” Benjamin Brett, PhD, assistant professor, Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, told Medscape Medical News.

“Rather, individuals continue to exhibit improvement and decline across a range of domains, including psychiatric, cognitive, and functional outcomes, even 2 to 7 years after their injury,” Brett said.

“Ultimately, our findings support conceptualizing TBI as a chronic condition for many patients, which requires routine follow-up, medical monitoring, responsive care, and support, adapting to their evolving needs many years following injury,” he said.

Results of the TRACK TBI LONG (Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in TBI Longitudinal study) were published online June 21 in Neurology.

Chronic and Evolving

The results are based on 1264 adults (mean age at injury, 41 years) from the initial TRACK TBI study, including 917 with mild TBI (mTBI) and 193 with moderate/severe TBI (msTBI), who were matched to 154 control patients who had experienced orthopedic trauma without evidence of head injury.

The participants were followed annually for up to 7 years after injury using the Glasgow Outcome Scale–Extended (GOSE), Brief Symptom Inventory–18 (BSI), and the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT), as well as a self-reported perception of function. The researchers calculated rates of change (classified as stable, improved, or declined) for individual outcomes at each long-term follow-up.

In general, “stable” was the most frequent change outcome for the individual measures from post-injury baseline assessment to 7 years post injury.

However, a substantial proportion of patients with TBI (regardless of severity) experienced changes in psychiatric status, cognition, and functional outcomes over the years.

When the GOSE, BSI, and BTACT were considered collectively, rates of decline were 21% for mTBI, 26% for msTBI, and 15% for OTC.

The highest rates of decline were in functional outcomes (GOSE scores). On average, over the course of 2 to 7 years post injury, 29% of patients with mTBI and 23% of those with msTBI experienced a decline in the ability to function with daily activities.

A pattern of improvement on the GOSE was noted in 36% of patients with msTBI and 22% patients with mTBI.

Notably, said Brett, patients who experienced greater difficulties near the time of injury showed improvement for a period of 2 to 7 years post injury. Patient factors, such as older age at the time of the injury, were associated with greater risk of long-term decline.

“Our findings highlight the need to embrace conceptualization of TBI as a chronic condition in order to establish systems of care that provide continued follow-up with treatment and supports that adapt to evolving patient needs, regardless of the directions of change,” Brett told Medscape Medical News.

Important and Novel Work

In a linked editorial, Robynne Braun, MD, PhD, with the Department of Neurology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, notes that there have been “few prospective studies examining post-injury outcomes on this longer timescale, especially in mild TBI, making this an important and novel body of work.”

The study “effectively demonstrates that changes in function across multiple domains continue to occur well-beyond the conventionally tracked 6–12-month period of injury recovery,” Braun writes.

The observation that over the 7-year follow-up, a substantial proportion of patients with mTBI and msTBI exhibited a pattern of decline on the GOSE suggests that they “may have needed more ongoing medical monitoring, rehabilitation or supportive services to prevent worsening,” Braun adds.

At the same time, the improvement pattern on the GOSE suggests “opportunities for recovery that further rehabilitative or medical services might have enhanced.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, the National Football League Scientific Advisory Board, and the US Department of Defense. Brett and Braun have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Neurology. Published online June 21, 2023. Abstract, Editorial

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