CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034
UI researchers study traumatic brain injuries, psychiatric disorders
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa researchers who studied children
with traumatic brain injury (TBI) found that certain risk factors helped
predict whether a child would develop a psychiatric disorder in the second
year after the injury occurred.
For 24 months researchers followed 42 children, ages 6 to 14, who had
suffered either a mild or severe TBI. The presence of a "novel"
psychiatric disorder in the second year after TBI was identified in 15
of those children. The study results are published in the September issue
of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"By 'novel' we mean a psychiatric disorder that developed in a
child who didn't have the disorder before the injury," says Dr. Jeffrey
Max, UI assistant professor of psychiatry and lead investigator in the
study. "So this could be a child who had been free of psychiatric
disorders before the injury, or a child who had a psychiatric disorder
but then developed another one after the injury."
Max and his colleagues looked at six variables to assess the risk factors
related to the presence of psychiatric disorders among children in the
second year after TBI. Three of those variables -- the severity of the
injury, the child's pre-injury psychiatric history, and the functionality
of the child's family -- were significant in predicting the development
of a novel psychiatric disorder.
"The severity of the injury itself has long been an obvious variable
to consider," Max says. "The more serious the injury, the more
likely the child is going to develop problems. We found that to be true."
The researchers also found that children in the study with a psychiatric
disorder at any time in their lives were at a higher risk of developing
another psychiatric disorder in the second year after a TBI.
Interestingly, family function before the injury played an important
role in whether a child developed a psychiatric disorder in the two years
following the injury. In the study, children from dysfunctional families
were more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder following their injury.
Max cites examples of family dysfunction -- parents not consistently applying
and enforcing a set of basic rules, not communicating with their children
or each other, and not recognizing or solving emotional or practical problems
regarding their children or themselves.
Whether the child's family was functional or not was determined by interviews
researchers conducted with the child's parents soon after the injury occurred.
"Other studies have looked at family function and have found this
variable affects the child's outcome, even children with severe head injury,"
Max says. "This is promising because it suggests that regardless of
the severity of the head injury, a child who has a well-functioning family
is going to have a better recovery. You can't do much about the initial
impact of a TBI once it's occurred, but strong family support can have
a positive influence.
"Alternatively, if family function can be improved through family
therapy, we may see improvement in the child's functioning. A study involving
family therapy may help clarify this unknown," he says.