Object: The goal of this study was to characterize more fully the cognitive changes that occur during the period of acute recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Methods: The pattern of performance recovery on attention and memory tests was compared with the results of the Galveston Orientation and Amnesia Test (GOAT). Tests of memory and attention were administered serially to a hospitalized group of patients with TBI of varying severity. The tests differed in their level of complexity and/or requirement for more effortful or strategic processing. The authors found a regular pattern to recovery. As expected, ability to perform on simpler tests was recovered before performance on more effortful ones. The ability to recall three words freely after a 24-hour delay (the operational definition in this study of return to continuous memory) was recovered last, later than normal performance on the GOAT. Ability to perform simple attentional tasks was recovered before the less demanding memory task (recognition); ability to perform more complex attentional tasks was recovered before the free recall of three words after a 24-hour delay. This recovery of attention before memory was most notable and distinct in the group with mild TBI.
Conclusions: The period of recovery after TBI, which is currently termed posttraumatic amnesia, appears to be primarily a confusional state and should be labeled as such. The authors propose a new definition for this acute recovery period and argue that the term posttraumatic confusional state should be used, because it more appropriately and completely characterizes the early period of recovery after TBI.