Cognitive Training Reduces Depression and Changes Brain Structure in Individuals with Chronic TBI Symptoms
Research scientists at the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas have just published a study, funded by the US Department of Defense, supporting the effectiveness of “strategy-based” cognitive training at reducing symptoms of depression commonly found in patients with chronic (greater than 6 months) traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptoms.
The training was an integrative program designed to improve cognitive control by exerting more efficient thinking strategies for selective attention and abstract reasoning. The training did not directly target psychiatric symptoms such as depression, but was nonetheless effective at reducing those symptoms.
Other studies have shown that depression alters brain structure and function. Consistent with these other studies, patients who received the cognitive training not only had reduced symptoms of depression, they also showed structural changes on imaging, including increased cortical thickness, and improved function, including increased functional connectivity.
A total of seventy‐nine individuals with chronic TBI (53 depressed and 26 non‐depressed individuals), measured using the Beck Depressive Inventory (BDI), underwent either strategy‐ or information‐based cognitive training in a small group for 8 weeks. The researchers measured psychological functioning scores, cortical thickness, and resting‐state functional connectivity (rsFC) for these individuals before training, immediately post‐training, and 3 months post‐training.
After confirming that changes in BDI scores were independent of training group affiliation, they found that the depressive‐symptoms group showed reductions in BDI scores over time relative to the non‐depressed TBI control. Within the depressive‐symptoms group, reduced BDI scores was associated with improvements in scores for post‐traumatic stress disorder, TBI symptom awareness, and functional status, increases in cortical thickness in four regions within the right prefrontal cortex, and increases in rsFC within each of these four prefrontal regions.
In addition to suggesting that cognitive training can reduce symptoms of depression associated with chronic TBI, the study suggests that cortical thickness and brain connectivity may offer promising neuroimaging markers of training‐induced improvement in mental health status in TBI patients.