Research on Simulated Driving Performance of Combat Veterans with Mild TBI and PTSD

Emily Bawden SN

Combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered a greater number of mild traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorders, and other serious injuries than veterans from any other war. This is due to repeated exposure to explosions. It is predicted that 15% of Afghan and Iraqi veterans have suffered a mild TBI. Symptoms of mild TBIs include blurred vision, headaches, dizziness, impaired concentration and memory, irritability, light sensitivity, motor coordination deficiencies, and nausea.

Both mild TBI and PTSD have various effects such as decreased cognition, vision changes, and motor dysfunction. They may also affect daily activities such as driving and the ability to function socially. Driving requires adequate cognitive, visual, perceptual, and motor skills to respond to stimuli, speedily process information, and react to sudden changes in the environment. Safe driving is then impaired in veterans with mild TBI and PTSD. The Department of Veteran Affairs reported on January 12, 2009 that the biggest cause of death among veterans during their first five years following deployment is car accidents.

In this study, 18 post-deployed combat veterans were compared with 20 control participants on driving errors in a driving simulator. The control group made more signaling errors, but the veteran group made more speeding errors and those in reaction to stimuli.

The researchers concluded that combat veterans made the most critical driving errors. Critical driving errors such as the ones in the simulator would cause real crashes and injuries. This study provides early support for developing safe driving practices for combat veterans, and for the those with mild TBIs in general.

References

Classen, S., Levy, C., Meyer, D. L., Bewernitz, M., Lanford, D. N., & Mann, W. C. (2011). Simulated Driving Performance of Combat Veterans With Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(4), 419-427. doi:10.5014/ajot2011.000893

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