Individuals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may experience significantly more difficulty with gist reasoning than traditional cognitive tests, a new study says. A news release issued by the Center for BrainHealth states that the study encompassed a unique cognitive assessment developed by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas.

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology and suggest that an individual’s ability to “get the fist or extract the essence of a message” post-TBI more strongly predicts his or her ability to effectively hold a job or maintain a household than previously revealed by traditional cognitive tests alone.

Asha Vas, PhD, research scientist at the Center for BrainHealth, lead study author, explains in the release that gist reasoning “characterizes a meaningful, complex cognitive capacity. Assessing how well one understands and expresses big ideas from information they are exposed, commonly known as an ability to ‘get the gist,’ is window into real life functionality.”

Vas adds that while performance on traditional cognitive tests is on informative, it may not pain “the full picture.”

“All too often, adults with brain injury have been told that they ought to be fine; in reality, they are not doing and thinking like they used to prior to the injury and struggle managing everyday life responsibilities years after the injury. Gist reasoning could be a sensitive tool to connect some of those dots as to why they are having trouble with real-life functionality despite falling into the range of ‘normal’ on other cognitive tests,” Vas says.

The study included 70 participants, adults aged 25 to 55 years old. A total of thirty had sustained a TBI 1 year or longer prior to the study, and 40 were healthy controls. The TBI group and matched controls were of similar socioeconomic status, educational backgrounds, and IQ. The researchers issued a series of standard cognitive assessments. These included working memory, inhibition, and switching. The gist reasoning assessment was also administered; it is designed to study the number of gist-based ideas (not explicitly stated facts) participants are able to abstract from multiple complex texts. The release notes that daily life functionality in TBI participants was evaluated using a self-rated questionnaire that included topics such as problem solving at work, managing finances, organizing grocery lists at home, and social interactions.

While the groups had similar IQ, reading comprehension, and speed of processing scores, results suggest nearly 70% of the TBI group scored lower on gist reasoning compared to controls. The decreased gist-reasoning performance among TBI survivors, researchers say, indicated a direct correlation with difficulties at work and at home. The cumulative score of all standard cognitive tests predicted daily function with 45% accuracy with TBI. Adding gist reasoning resulted in 58% accuracy, the study says.

While acute recovery care is essential, long-term monitoring and effective interventions are key to address persistent or later-emerging deficits and ensure maximum brain regeneration and cognitive performance, says Sandra Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas

“We don’t want anyone who has survived a TBI to think that if gist reasoning and day-to-day life is challenging today that it will always be that way, because gist reasoning can be improved. In an earlier study conducted at the Center for BrainHealth, we found that individuals with TBI can improve gist reasoning. This is very promising outcome, because increased gist reasoning is associated with improved functionality and greater brain blood flow, a sign of increased brain health,” Chapman notes.

Additionally, the release reports that researchers theorize that gist reasoning impairments may also reflect losses in flexible and innovative thinking and losses in these areas may slow optimal daily life functioning.

[Source(s): Science Daily, Center for BrainHealth]