Can factors such as IQ predict recovery from a traumatic brain injury?

August 12, 2019

Posted by: Rujina Begum


During a hearing I once attended, a Master commented that it had been proven that those with stronger physical abilities would recover better from orthopedic injuries compared to their weaker counterparts and likewise those with a higher level of IQ would recover better from a head injury than those with a lower level of IQ.  Whilst this struck me as a bold statement from a Master, I wondered if indeed there was any scientific research to support this.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Neurotrauma (2019) looked in to exactly this statement – ‘Cognitive Reserve and Age Predict Cognitive Recovery after Mild to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury’.  An Australian team found that within a group of mild to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients, a shorter duration of post-traumatic amnesia, younger age and higher IQ were associated with better cognitive performance in the initial period and in a follow up within two to five years after the trauma.

Whilst previous research has looked at post traumatic amnesia, age and pre-morbid IQ as factors which may impact on recovery, this study went one step further and included a review with an extended time frame of two to five years for follow up.  The results demonstrated that pre-morbid IQ may disproportionately affect an adult’s potential for cognitive recovery after TBI and it was possible that higher pre-morbid IQ could enable greater capacity for existing brain networks to adapt and reorganise in the long-term after the trauma, thereby allowing for a better recovery.

As with any research study, it is has limitations and cannot be considered as conclusive evidence.  One of the limitations in this study is that the TBI patients were all receiving rehabilitation following their accidents as part of the Australian compensation system.  The results on recovery may therefore differ to those who are not provided with support following their TBI.

As lawyers specialising in brain injuries, our starting point is usually the head injury itself and then we examine the effects of this on someone’s life.  We understand that head injuries can have a wide variety of effects, regardless of its severity, and impact people in a number of different ways, and these can include cognitive problems as well as physical. But if research such as the above can identify characteristics which can inform prognosis, then perhaps it can also aid rehabilitation and assist in a targeted approach in improving recovery.  This may assist lawyers and clinicians but most importantly TBI patients, in understanding that an injury can impact people differently and that each road to recovery and the recovery itself varies from patient to patient.

Rujina Begum is a solicitor in the Adult Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Rujina free of charge and in confidence at rujinabegum@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury Team.

Posted by: Rujina Begum

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