New Use of An Old Test Can Help Brain-Injured Patients

April 14, 1999

Hershey, Pa. --- Researchers in Penn State's College of Medicine are using a quasi-experimental simulation to help pinpoint the problems of patients who have suffered concussions.

"The quasi-experimental simulation has been around for decades, but until we started this project, it has never been used to assess brain- injured patients," explains Siegfried Streufert, Ph.D., professor of behavioral science.

Streufert and his colleague, Usha Satish, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral science, have tested 12 patients over the past year. What they have found is that many brain-injured patients show a great lack of initiative and are unable to make decisions.

The scenario takes four hours for the patient to complete. During that period the patient makes decisions in a simulated environment which approximates the real world. "It sounds very complex, but in fact the patients have responded very well," adds Satish.

Streufert explains that this simulation test measures a number of different characteristics that are predictors of success in the real world. What is being measured is termed higher order cognitive function. Some of the factors include responsiveness, speed, initiative, emergency response, planning and strategy.

"While patients consistently lacked initiative, we realize they can gather information at high levels and take orders very well," says Satish. She adds that most of these patients have normal or near normal test results on neuropsychological tests and other measures. However, most report numerous problems holding a job and problems with personal relationships. In addition, Satish adds that they sustain subtle executive function deficits which are hard to measure using environmental tests. "By being able to consistently measure what problems these brain-injured patients are having, we can tailor rehabilitation efforts much better. This program is both time effective and cost effective," explains Satish. As she continues to test patients to add information to her database, the Penn State College of Medicine researcher is seeking funding to greatly expand the program.

"We think this can be a model used in many places that could help thousands of people. Often these patients are young victims who were in car accidents. If we can help get them back to work quicker and improve their personal lives, there will also be a great cost savings for society," says Satish.

Penn State

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