Returning service members to duty following mild traumatic brain injury: Exploring the use of dual-task and multitask assessment methods

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Physical Therapy








Within the last decade, more than 220,000 service members have sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI) in support of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mild TBI may result in subtle cognitive and sensorimotor deficits that adversely affect warfighter performance, creating significant challenges for service members, commanders, and clinicians. In recent conflicts, physical therapists and occupational therapists have played an important role in evaluating service member readiness to return to duty (RTD), incorporating research and best practices from the sports concussion literature. Because premorbid (baseline) performance metrics are not typically available for deployed service members as for athletes, clinicians commonly determine duty readiness based upon the absence of postconcussive symptoms and return to "normal" performance on clinical assessments not yet validated in the military population. Although practices described in the sports concussion literature guide "return-to-play" determinations, resolution of symptoms or improvement of isolated impairments may be inadequate to predict readiness in a military operational environment. Existing clinical metrics informing RTD decision making are limited because they fail to emphasize functional, warrior task demands and they lack versatility to assess the effects of comorbid deficits. Recently, a number of complex task-oriented RTD approaches have emerged from Department of Defense laboratory and clinical settings to address this gap. Immersive virtual reality environments, field-based scenario-driven assessment programs, and militarized dual-task and multitask-based approaches have all been proposed for the evaluation of sensorimotor and cognitive function following TBI. There remains a need for clinically feasible assessment methods that can be used to verify functional performance and operational competence in a variety of practice settings. Complex and ecologically valid assessment techniques incorporating dual-task and multitask methods may prove useful in validating return-to-activity requirements in civilian and military populations. © 2013 American Physical Therapy Association.

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