Overlapping Difficulties: Preliminary Findings on PTSD and TBI Symptoms

by Anne P. DePrince & Naomi Wright

Our team and others around the country have sounded the alarm about the high rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among women seeking services for intimate partner abuse (IPA). While many people recover from TBIs without complications, consequences can persist for some people. Some of those consequences, such as cognitive or sleep problems, also overlap with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The overlap can make it hard to make sense of difficulties — for survivors and providers.

A figure that illustrates difficulties unique to TBI and PTSD as well as areas of overlap.

Recently, graduate student Naomi Wright took the lead on mapping TBI consequences and PTSD symptoms to test for patterns among those difficulties. To do so, she dusted off the data from the Denver Triage Study. This was the first study in which our team documented incredibly high rates of head injuries: More than 8 in 10 women had been struck in the head at some point in their lives and screening suggested more than half had a mild TBI.

Naomi focused on the 80% of women who had been struck in the head and were asked about TBI consequences. She used an analytic approach called Latent Class Analysis. In LCA, all of the ratings that Triage participants gave for TBI and PTSD difficulties are analyzed at the same time to identify meaningful patterns of responses, called classes. Next, LCA helps to determine the likelihood that each woman’s responses fits within one of the classes identified.

The Triage data revealed four classes, or profiles of TBI and PTSD difficulties. Those were: 1.) TBI + PTSD difficulties, 2.) PTSD only; 3.) Cognitive Dysregulation, and 4.) No difficulties/Asymptomatic.

One way to check whether the classes are meaningful is to test whether they track onto other variables of interest in ways that make sense. That was the case here: As illustrated in the poster below, the classes were related to the recency and severity of the head injury. For example, more years had passed since the head injury for women in the PTSD only class relative to the other classes.

We will be able to follow up on this approach going forward in our ongoing collaboration with the Rose Andom Center and our colleagues Drs. Gorgens and Dmitrieva – so please stay tuned.

In the meantime, Naomi will present these important preliminary findings at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Annual Meeting this fall…we wanted to be sure that you got a sneak peek first, though!

Academic poster that brief describes the study methods and findings.