Hyperarousal Symptoms Explain the Relationship Between Cognitive Complaints and Working Memory Performance in Veterans Seeking PTSD Treatment

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Abstract

Objective:

Comorbidity and symptom overlap between traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans returning from deployment present challenges with respect to differential diagnosis and treatment. Both conditions frequently manifest with attention and working memory deficits, though the underlying neuropsychological basis differs. This study evaluated whether hyperarousal symptoms explain the relationship between subjective and objective measures of cognition in a veteran sample.

Participants and Procedures:

One-hundred three veterans completed the military version of the PTSD Checklist (PCL), the Neurobehavioral Symptom Inventory, and the Wechsler Memory Scale, 3rd edition digit span task with adequate effort.

Results:

Hierarchical regression suggested that hyperarousal, but not other PTSD symptoms, explained the relationship between neurobehavioral symptoms and cognitive functioning. This relationship was present regardless of whether veterans met full PTSD diagnostic criteria or screened positive on a traumatic brain injury screener and was robust to other moderators.

Conclusion:

These findings highlight the importance of considering traumatic brain injury and PTSD symptom overlap, particularly the relationship between hyperarousal symptoms and attention and working memory deficits, in conceptualizing cases and treatment planning.

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