One of the most pressing concerns within the VA currently is the provision of interventions that address the cognitive as well as emotional problems faced by Veterans with concurrent mild TBI and PTSD. One purpose of this study is to learn more about how PTSD and mild brain injury influences how people think, act, and feel. This may include how people pay attention, keep information in memory, organize plans for achieving important goals, and manage stress. Another purpose of this research is to learn more about the effects of cognitive training on the thinking, behavior, and emotions of individuals with PTSD and mild brain injury - both in the short- and long-term. With this research, the investigators hope to better understand and treat cognitive and emotional difficulties that can occur due to PTSD and mild brain injury.
The overall aim of this proposal is to investigate the potential short and long term effectiveness of a cognitive training program Goal-Oriented Attentional Self-regulation (GOALS) that targets executive control functions in Veterans with co-morbid posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), history of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), and cognitive difficulties. Both PTSD and a history of mild TBI are prevalent in Veterans from the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) conflicts, with reported rates for each disorder ranging from 14 - 22%. Both PTSD and TBI have been associated with cognitive dysfunction which may lead to functional impairment and poor community reintegration. PTSD can be highly debilitating not only due to emotional dysregulation, but also due to deficits in the cognitive control processes.
Goal-Oriented Attentional Self-Regulation (GOALS) is a therapist administered cognitive rehabilitation training that targets executive control functions of applied mindfulness-based attention regulation and goal management, and links them to participant-defined real-life goals. In a prior study with individuals with chronic brain injury, this training has improved cognitive performance in areas of complex attention / executive function, memory, complex functional task performance, and daily functioning. Furthermore, functional MRI results after training indicated significantly enhanced modulation of neural processing in extrastriate cortex and changes in prefrontal cortex. Preliminary results from a recently completed study with Veterans with a history of chronic TBI also support improvements post GOALS on neuropsychological measures of attention and executive function, performance on complex 'real-life' tasks, and self-report measures of functional performance. Furthermore, participants also showed improvement on the emotional regulation self-report measures. These findings suggest that improving cognitive control may also improve functioning in other domains such as emotional regulation and functional performance in daily life.
In a randomized, controlled intervention study design, 42 Veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD, history of mTBI and residual cognitive difficulties will participate in experimental (GOALS), and/or active comparison (Brain Health Education - EDU) interventions matched for time and intensity. Participants will be randomized to start with either 5 weeks of GOALS or EDU training. Those who begin with EDU will cross-over to GOALS, while those begin with GOALS will have 5 weeks of self-driven practice only. Both groups will participate in pre and post intervention measurements at baseline, weeks 5 and 10. Long-term follow-up will be at 6 months. Pre- and post-intervention measurements will include performance on untrained: neuro-cognitive tests assessing targeted and non-targeted cognitive domains, complex functional task performance in low structure 'real-world' setting, and self-report measures of emotional regulation and daily functioning.