Following traumatic brain injury (TBI), participation in employment, education, leisure, and relationships is often significantly reduced, leaving individuals substantially less integrated in their communities (1–4). As a result, many individuals spend increased time at home, straining family and other relationships (5). Given that TBI occurs commonly during young adulthood (6), participation deficits coincide with a critical period of development in which individuals are completing education, establishing a vocation, leaving home, and forming important lifelong relationships. Failure to attain these goals may profoundly impact their sense of self, mental health and general well-being. Reduced participation often extends beyond the acute recovery period and continues to be associated with poorer quality of life up to two decades after injury (7). Arguably participation in these life roles, including employment, education, leisure and relationships, represents one of the most important and objective indicators of injury outcomes.
Numerous variables have been associated with participation outcomes post-TBI, including injury-related and demographic variables as well as post-injury environmental and personal factors. Injury severity, cognitive difficulties, and limb injuries with related pain and impact on mood, affect an individual’s ability to engage socially and often present significant barriers to education and employment (8–16). Injury severity is a particularly well-researched predictor of participation outcomes, with duration of post traumatic amnesia (PTA) having the most robust association (17–21). With respect to demographic factors, younger age, higher premorbid education level, higher premorbid IQ, and being employed prior to injury have all been associated with better participation outcomes (10, 22–29). Notably, older age at injury has been found to predict both worse participation overall as well as progressively worsening participation over time (10). Although gender does not appear to be directly associated with participation (30), it may have an indirect association, for example through mood and pre-injury education (14). Post-injury psychological functioning, particularly depression and anxiety, are also important predictors of participation outcomes (10, 12, 31–33). The impact of family functioning on participation is thought to be both direct, and through association with emotional well-being (34, 35).
Due to this broad range of factors influencing outcome, research has moved toward a multivariate approach to prediction of participation outcomes following TBI (24, 36, 37, 38). These models contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of participation outcomes; however, the average amount of variance accounted for by predictive models is around 30% (21). This suggests there are additional predictive factors yet to be identified. One such factor that has increasingly gained scholarly recognition, due its positive association with quality of life and well-being outcomes among different clinical populations, is resilience.
Resilience has been conceptualized as a process of adaptation to adversity or the ability to bounce back after trauma or adversity. Resilience arguably influences the extent to which a person is able to resume important life roles after an injury. Resilience may impact participation outcomes directly through facilitating or promoting return to normal life or the development and achievement of new life goals (39), and indirectly through its effects on improved well-being, quality of life and psychological adjustment. Participating in employment, education, leisure, and relationships represent fundamental areas of participation. Resilience has been positively associated with physical and emotional well-being in individuals with cancer (40), Parkinson’s disease (41), diabetes (42), chronic spinal cord injury (43), multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, stroke, and posttraumatic stress disorder (44, 45). There has been less resilience research in TBI, with only one study to date examining the association between resilience and participation. Notably, it has been suggested that the study of resilience after TBI poses a distinct challenge, in that the skills characteristically associated with resilience are typically impaired after TBI (45–47). For example, resilience requires emotional stability, a positive outlook, good problem-solving skills and social perception (47); however, TBI is commonly associated with impaired executive functioning (48, 49), irritability and aggression (50, 51), depression (33, 45), and difficulties with social perception (52).
The little research that has focused on resilience after TBI has been largely limited to patients with mild TBI, in whom no studies have examined impact on participation. In this group, greater resilience has been associated with less reporting of post-concussional and post-traumatic stress symptoms (53–55), reduced fatigue, insomnia, stress, and depressive symptoms, as well as better quality of life (56). One study found that greater pre-injury resilience was significantly associated with greater post-concussion symptom severity 1 month post-injury (57), perhaps reflecting insufficient time for participants to “bounce back” (44), or overrating of pre-injury resilience levels, a phenomenon known as the “Good Old Days”(58).
Only three studies have examined resilience in individuals with moderate to severe TBI, of which one examined an association with participation. Marwitz et al. (39), conducted a large (n = 195) longitudinal study and found that resilience was significantly associated with participation over the first 12 months post-injury (39). Other studies have associated higher resilience in individuals with moderate to severe TBI with fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms, better emotional adjustment, use of task oriented coping and greater social support (44, 45). However, one of these studies used a sample of individuals who were actively seeking help with adjusting to changes post-injury, possibly biasing the sample toward those experiencing greater adjustment problems (45).
The aim of the present study was to examine the relative association of resilience, as well as demographic, injury-related, cognitive, emotional, and family factors with participation (productivity, social relations and leisure) following mild to severe TBI. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the association between resilience and participation outcomes more than 12 months after mild to severe TBI. This critically extends previous research by examining the impact of resilience across the spectrum of TBI severity, from mild to severe, and how this association influences outcomes beyond the acute post-injury period. It was hypothesized that resilience would make an independent contribution to participation after TBI, in a model that would include demographic variables (gender, age, pre-morbid IQ, education, pre-injury employment), injury variables (injury severity, cognitive functioning, limb injury, time since injury) and post-injury personal and environmental factors (depression, anxiety, family support).[…]