Purpose: The aim of this paper is to present the current knowledge regarding return to work (RTW) following traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Method: Based on a Medline search, the authors reviewed the current TBI rehabilitation literature regarding (a) predictive factors for successful RTW, and (b) current concepts in rehabilitative strategies for successful RTW.
Results: The functional consequences to the victim of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be severe. Intensive rehabilitative efforts typically emphasize the early phase and address mainly the accompanying functional deficits in the realm of basic activities of daily living and mobility. An otherwise successful medical rehabilitation may end unsuccessfully because of the failure to return to work, with profound consequences to the individual and family, both economic and psychosocial. Even mild TBI may cause lasting problems in tasks calling for sustained attention. There appears to be a complex interaction between pre-morbid characteristics, injury factors, post injury impairments, personal and environmental factors in TBI patients, which influences RTW outcomes in ways that make prediction difficult. Injury severity and lack of self-awareness appear to be the most significant indicators of failure to RTW. Several medical, psychosocial and rehabilitative therapies are currently being implemented in rehabilitation settings which improve the chances of returning to work.
Conclusion: Accurate prediction of whether a particular TBI patient will successfully return to work is not feasible, with RTW rates in the 12 - 70% range. A significant proportion of TBI patients, including those who are severely injured, are able to return to productive employment if sufficient and appropriate effort is invested. A comprehensive approach - medical and psychosocial - eventually entailing adequate vocational rehabilitation with supported employment can improve outcomes.