Rehabilitation of Traumatic Brain Injury in Active Duty Military Personnel and Veterans: Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Rehabilitation Approaches

Rodney D. Vanderploeg*, Karen Schwab, William C. Walker, Jamie A. Fraser, Barbara J. Sigford, Elaine S. Date, Steven G. Scott, Glenn Curtiss, Andres M. Salazar, Deborah L. Warden

*Corresponding author for this work

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112 Scopus citations


Vanderploeg RD, Schwab K, Walker WC, Fraser JA, Sigford BJ, Date ES, Scott SG, Curtiss G, Salazar AM, Warden DL, for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Study Group. Rehabilitation of traumatic brain injury in active duty military personnel and veterans: Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center randomized controlled trial of two rehabilitation approaches. Objectives: To determine the relative efficacy of 2 different acute traumatic brain injury (TBI) rehabilitation approaches: cognitive didactic versus functional-experiential, and secondarily to determine relative efficacy for different patient subpopulations. Design: Randomized, controlled, intent-to-treat trial comparing 2 alternative TBI treatment approaches. Setting: Four Veterans Administration acute inpatient TBI rehabilitation programs. Participants: Adult veterans or active duty military service members (N=360) with moderate to severe TBI. Interventions: One and a half to 2.5 hours of protocol-specific cognitive-didactic versus functional-experiential rehabilitation therapy integrated into interdisciplinary acute Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities-accredited inpatient TBI rehabilitation programs with another 2 to 2.5 hours daily of occupational and physical therapy. Duration of protocol treatment varied from 20 to 60 days depending on the clinical needs and progress of each participant. Main Outcome Measures: The 2 primary outcome measures were functional independence in living and return to work and/or school assessed by independent evaluators at 1-year follow-up. Secondary outcome measures consisted of the FIM, Disability Rating Scale score, and items from the Present State Exam, Apathy Evaluation Scale, and Neurobehavioral Rating Scale. Results: The cognitive-didactic and functional-experiential treatments did not result in overall group differences in the broad 1-year primary outcomes. However, analysis of secondary outcomes found differentially better immediate posttreatment cognitive function (mean ± SD cognitive FIM) in participants randomized to cognitive-didactic treatment (27.3±6.2) than to functional treatment (25.6±6.0, t332=2.56, P=.01). Exploratory subgroup analyses found that younger participants in the cognitive arm had a higher rate of returning to work or school than younger patients in the functional arm, whereas participants older than 30 years and those with more years of education in the functional arm had higher rates of independent living status at 1 year posttreatment than similar patients in the cognitive arm. Conclusions: Results from this large multicenter randomized controlled trial comparing cognitive-didactic and functional-experiential approaches to brain injury rehabilitation indicated improved but similar long-term global functional outcome. Participants in the cognitive treatment arm achieved better short-term functional cognitive performance than patients in the functional treatment arm. The current increase in war-related brain injuries provides added urgency for rigorous study of rehabilitation treatments. ( ID# NCT00540020.).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2227-2238
Number of pages12
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Brain injuries
  • Cognition
  • Rehabilitation
  • Treatment outcome


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