We investigated the impact of pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) on attention, a prerequisite for behavioral and neurocognitive functioning.
Children aged 6 to 13 years who were diagnosed with TBI (n = 113; mean 1.7 years postinjury) were compared with children with a trauma control injury (not involving the head) (n = 53). TBI severity was defined as mild TBI with or without risk factors for complicated TBI (mildRF+ TBI, n = 52; mildRF− TBI, n = 24) or moderate/severe TBI (n = 37). Behavioral functioning was assessed by using parent and teacher questionnaires, and the Attention Network Test assessed alerting, orienting, and executive attention. Ex-Gaussian modeling determined the contribution of extremely slow responses (lapses of attention) to mean reaction time (MRT).
The TBI group showed higher parent and teacher ratings of attention and internalizing problems, higher parent ratings of externalizing problems, and lower intelligence than the control group (P < .05, d ≥ 0.34). No effect of TBI on alerting, orienting, and executive attention was observed (P ≥ .55). MRT was slower in the TBI group (P = .008, d = 0.45), traced back to increased lapses of attention (P = .002, d = 0.52). The mildRF− TBI group was unaffected, whereas the mildRF+ TBI and moderate/severe TBI groups showed elevated parent ratings of behavior problems, lower intelligence, and increased lapses of attention (P ≤ .03, d ≥ 0.48). Lapses of attention fully explained the negative relation between intelligence and parent-rated attention problems in the TBI group (P = .02).
Lapses of attention represent a core attention deficit in children with mildRF+ TBI (even in the absence of intracranial pathology) or moderate/severe TBI, and relate to daily life problems after pediatric TBI.