Family Adaptation 18 Months After Traumatic Brain Injury in Early Childhood

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Objective:The purpose of this study was to examine family adaptation to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in young children during the first 18-month postinjury, when compared with children who had an orthopedic injury.Methods:A concurrent cohort/prospective research design was used with repeated assessments of children aged 3 to 6 years with TBI or orthopedic injury requiring hospitalization and their families. Shortly after injury and at 6-, 12-, and 18-month postinjury, parents of 99 children with TBI (20 severe, 64 moderate, 15 mild) and 117 with orthopedic injury completed standardized assessments of family functioning, parental distress and coping, injury-related burden, and noninjury-related parent stressors and resources. Mixed models analyses examined group differences in parental burden and distress adjusted for race and social demographic factors.Results:Both moderate and severe TBI were associated with higher levels of injury-related stress than orthopedic injury, with stress levels diminishing over time in all groups. Severe TBI was also associated with greater psychological distress on the Brief Symptom Inventory but not with more depressive symptoms. Family functioning and social resources moderated the relationship of TBI severity to injury-related burden and caregiver distress, respectively. Lower child adaptive skills were associated with poorer family outcome but group differences remained even when controlling for this effect.Conclusions:Severe TBI in young children has adverse consequences for parents and families during the first 18-month postinjury. The consequences lessen over time for many families and vary as a function of social resources.

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