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Minor head injury: pathophysiological or iatrogenic sequelae?
  1. F Newcombe,
  2. P Rabbitt,
  3. M Briggs
  1. Department of Neurosurgery, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, UK.


    This study addresses the possibility that cognitive sequelae--albeit of a transient or minor character--can be associated with mild head injury. Twenty men (aged 16-30 years of age), whose post-traumatic amnesia did not exceed eight hours, were examined within 48 hours of their accident and again one month later. This unselected sample had no previous history of head injury. A control group of 20 men of similar socioeconomic background, was selected from medical wards (where they had been admitted for orthopaedic treatment or a minor operation). They were also retested one month after the first examination. Neuropsychological tests were selected to measure abilities often compromised after significant head injury, namely memory and attention. The experimental component consisted of the fractionation of a complex skill (paced addition) to probe for deficits at different stages of information processing: perception and input into storage; search for and retrieval of information from working memory; and paced and unpaced addition. In general, no significant difference was found between the experimental and control groups, with the possible exception of an initial decrement on two working memory tasks: probe digits and a keeping track task (where the subject has to keep in mind and update a number of variables at the same time). The keeping track paradigm, ostensibly of ecological relevance, may well be worth further exploration in memory research, and in studies of more severely head-injured patients. It is further suggested that the appropriate management and counselling of mildly head-injured patients may help to avert symptoms that are of psychological rather than pathophysiological origin.

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