Deficits in executive control functions are some of the most common and disabling consequences of both military and civilian brain injury. However, effective interventions are scant. The goal of this study was to assess whether cognitive rehabilitation training that was successfully applied in chronic civilian brain injury would be effective for military veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI). In a prior study, participants with chronic acquired brain injury significantly improved after training in Goal-Oriented Attentional Self-Regulation (GOALS) on measures of attention/executive function, functional task performance, and goal-directed control over neural processing on functional magnetic resonance imaging. The objective of this study was to assess effects of GOALS training in veterans with chronic TBI. A total of 33 veterans with chronic TBI and executive difficulties in their daily life completed either 5 weeks of manualized GOALS training or Brain-Health Education (BHE) matched by time and intensity. Evaluator-blinded assessments at baseline and post-training included neuropsychological and complex functional task performance and self-report measures of emotional regulation. After GOALS, but not BHE training, participants significantly improved from baseline on primary outcome measures of Overall Complex Attention/Executive Function composite neuropsychological performance score (F = 7.10, p = 0.01; partial η2 = 0.19), and on overall complex functional task performance (Goal Processing Scale Overall Performance; F = 6.92, p = 0.01, partial η2 = 0.20). Additionally, post-GOALS participants indicated significant improvement on emotional regulation self-report measures (Profile of Mood States Confusion Score; F = 6.05, p = 0.02, partialη2 = 0.20). Training in attentional self-regulation applied to participant-defined goals may improve cognitive functioning in veterans with chronic TBI. Attention regulation training may not only impact executive control functioning in real-world complex tasks, but also may improve emotional regulation and functioning. Implications for treatment of veterans with TBI are discussed.
Keywords: cognitive rehabilitation; traumatic brain injury; veterans.