Cognitive training can reduce depressive symptoms in individuals with traumatic brain injury

Cognitive training can reduce depressive symptoms in patients with traumatic brain injury, according to new research published in Human Brain Mapping.

“Individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are a complex population because they often have other clinical conditions, such as depression. However, little is known about what happens to the brain when individuals with TBI receive treatment for depression. So this research focused on how the brain responds to cognitive training for individuals with TBI and depression,” said Kihwan Han of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

In the study, 79 individuals with chronic TBI underwent either strategy- or information-based cognitive training in a small group for 8 weeks. Researchers used the Beck Depression Inventory to classify 53 of the participants as depressed.

The strategy-based training focused on improving selective attention, abstract reasoning and other thinking strategies, while the information-based training focused on education about
brain anatomy, the effects of TBI, neural plasticity, brain performance, and similar topics. Both involved homework and projects.

Depressed participants who received cognitive training saw significantly reduced depressive symptoms, which were were associated with improvements in daily life functioning.

Magnetic resonance imaging brain scans indicated that the improvements were related to changes in cortical thickness and resting-state functional connectivity.

“Group-based cognitive training can reduce depressive symptoms of individuals with TBI. Our study demonstrates that brain structure and neural connections may be a brain-based marker of training-induced reductions in depressive symptoms in TBI,” Han told PsyPost.

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“The severity of depressive symptoms of our study participants did not reach clinical level. To confirm the clinical utility of cognitive training and discovered brain-based marker in treatment for depression in TBI, our study findings should be replicated with an independent group of TBI individuals with more severe levels of depression,” Han explained.

“The brain is much more adaptable and repairable than many people realize,” he added. “The way we use our brains actually leads to physical changes in our brains, and that is why cognitive training can help people dealing with issues such as TBI and depression, but also people who are generally healthy.”

The study, “Neural correlates of reduced depressive symptoms following cognitive training for chronic traumatic brain injury“, was authored by Kihwan Han, David Martinez, Sandra B. Chapman, and Daniel C. Krawczyk.