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Researchers identify specific cognitive deficits in individuals with spinal cord injury

Photo has the following researchers Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, PhD, Erica Weber, PhD, Trevor Dyson-Hudson, MD and Glenn Wylie, DPhil, from Kessler Foundation.
Submitted by nmiller on Fri, 01/18/2019 - 11:37

Photo of Drs. Trevor, Nancy, Erica and Glenn

Similarities in cognitive findings between persons with spinal cord injury and older healthy individuals could indicate accelerated aging of the brain after spinal cord injury   

East Hanover, NJ. January 18, 2019. A multidisciplinary team of researchers has identified specific cognitive deficits in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). Their findings support the theory of accelerated aging after SCI, and have important implications for further research. The article, “Patterns of cognitive deficits in persons with spinal cord injury as compared with both age-matched and older individuals without spinal cord injury”, (doi: 10.1080/10790268.2018.1543103) was epublished ahead of print on December 3, 2018 by the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine. The authors are scientists with expertise in cognitive rehabilitation and SCI rehabilitation: Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, PhD, Erica Weber, PhD, Glenn Wylie, DPhil, and Trevor Dyson-Hudson, MD, from Kessler Foundation, and Jill M. Wecht, EdD, from the James J. Peters VA Medical Center.

Courtesy of the publisher, this article is Open Access through March 31: https://doi.org/10.1080/10790268.2018.1543103

Individuals with chronic SCI have an increased risk for cognitive impairment, which can adversely affect recovery and overall quality of life. Concomitant brain injury fails to account for the increased risk for cognitive deficits. Multiple factors contribute to the high incidence − up to 60 percent demonstrate some degree of cognitive impairment. Developing effective interventions is dependent on precise knowledge of the types of deficits. To explore this question, the team administered a battery of neuropsychological tests to 3 groups: 60 individuals with spinal cord injury (32 paraplegia, 28 tetraplegia), 30 age-matched controls, and 20 older healthy controls. None of the tests required motor ability; these included the WAIS-III Digit Span and Letter-Number Sequencing; Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) – oral version; California Verbal Learning Test-II; Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT); the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI); Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System; and the Verbal Fluency subtest.

Significant differences were found between the SCI group and the age-matched control group, according to Dr. Chiaravalloti, director of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Research, and director of the Northern New Jersey TBI Model System. “The individuals with SCI had deficits in information processing speed, verbal fluency, and new learning and memory,” noted Dr. Chiaravalloti, “while their attention and working memory were unaffected. As we had postulated, their neuropsychological profile more closely aligned with that of older healthy controls. This could be a sign of accelerated brain aging after SCI, a phenomenon that has been associated with other neurological conditions.”

“People often focus on mobility impairments associated with SCI; however, addressing cognitive deficits in this population is also critically important,” said co-author Dr. Dyson-Hudson, director of SCI Research, and director of the Northern New Jersey SCI Model System. “Future research needs to be based on broader measures of neuropsychological function. Identifying modifiable risk factors and developing targeted cognitive interventions will help restore maximal function, and support the efforts of individuals to participate in their communities and the workforce.”  

Funding sources: New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research (CSCR 13IRG018); Rehabilitation Research and Development Service (B2020-CJ; B9212-CJ).

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that improves cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. Learn more by visiting http://www.KesslerFoundation.org.

About the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine

The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine (JSCM) serves the international community of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of people with injuries/disorders of the spinal cord. JSCM is the peer-reviewed official journal of the Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals (ASCIP), a US-based multidisciplinary organization serving scientists, physicians, psychologists, nurses, therapists and social workers in the field of spinal cord injury care and research. JSCM, a member benefit of ASCIP, is published six times a year by Taylor & Francis Publishing. The editor-in-chief is Dr. Florian Thomas of Hackensack University Medical Center, Seton Hall-Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, Hackensack, NJ, USA. JSCM's 2017 Impact Factor is 1.882.

Contact: Carolann Murphy, PA, Assistant Editor; Cmurphy@KesslerFoundation.org