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56 TBI Severity Moderates the Association between Subjective and Objective Attention in Older Veterans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2023

Peter P Rantins*
San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA.
Monica Ly
VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA.
Alexandra L Clark
University of Texas, Austin, Austin, TX, USA.
Alexandra J Weigand
San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego, CA, USA.
Kayla S Walker
San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA.
Victoria C Merritt
VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA. University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Katherine J Bangen
VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA. University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Kelsey R Thomas
VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA. University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Correspondence: Peter P. Rantins, San Diego State University,
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Prior work on associations between self-reported cognition and objective cognitive performance in Veterans has yielded mixed findings, with some evidence indicating that mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) may not impact the associations between subjective and objective cognition. However, few studies have examined these relationships in both mild and moderate-to-severe TBI, in older Veterans, and within specific cognitive domains. Therefore, we assessed the moderating effect of TBI severity on subjective and objective cognition across multiple cognitive domains.

Participants and Methods:

This study included 246 predominately male Vietnam-Era Veterans (age M=69.61, SD=4.18, Range = 60.87 – 85.16) who completed neuropsychological testing and symptom questionnaires as part of the Department of Defense-Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (DoD-ADNI). Participants were classified as having history of no TBI (n=81), mild TBI (n=80), or moderate-tosevere TBI (n=85). Neuropsychological composite scores in the domains of memory, attention/executive functioning, and language were included as the outcome variables. The Everyday Cognition (ECog) measure was used to capture subjective cognition and, specifically, the ECog domain scores of memory, divided attention, and language were chosen as independent variables to mirror the objective cognitive domains. General linear models, adjusting for age, education, apolipoprotein E ε4 carrier status, pulse pressure, depressive symptom severity, and PTSD symptom severity, tested whether TBI severity moderated the associations of domain-specific subjective and objective cognition.


Across the sample, subjective memory was associated with objective memory (β=-.205, 95% CI [-.332, -.078], p=.002) and subjective language was associated with objective language (β=-.267, 95% CI [-.399, -.134], p<.001). However, the main effect of subjective divided attention was not associated with objective attention/executive functioning (p=.124). The main effect of TBI severity was not associated with any of the objective cognitive domain scores after adjusting for the other variables in the model. The TBI severity x subjective cognition interaction was significant for attention/executive functioning [F(2,234)=5.18, p=.006]. Specifically, relative to Veterans without a TBI, participants with mild TBI (β=-.311, 95% CI [-.620, -.002], p=.048) and moderate-to-severe TBI (β=-.499, 95% CI [-.806, -.193], p=.002) showed stronger negative associations between subjective divided attention and objective attention/executive functioning. TBI severity did not moderate the associations between subjective and objective cognition for memory or language domains. The pattern of results did not change when the total number of TBIs was included in the models.


In this DoD-ADNI sample, stronger associations between subjective and objective attention were evident among individuals with mild and moderate-to-severe TBI compared to Veterans without a TBI history. Attention/executive functioning measures (Trails A and B) may be particularly sensitive to detecting subtle cognitive difficulties related to TBI and/or comorbid psychiatric symptoms, which may contribute to these attention-specific findings. The strongest associations were among those with moderate-to-severe TBI, potentially because the extent to which their attention difficulties are affecting their daily lives are more apparent despite no significant differences in objective attention performance by TBI group. This study highlights the importance of assessing both subjective and objective cognition in older Veterans and the particular relevance of the attention domain within the context of TBI.

Poster Session 04: Aging | MCI
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2023