Dysfunctional timing in traumatic brain injury patients: Co-occurrence of cognitive, motor, and perceptual deficits

Verga, L., Schwartze, M., Stapert, S., Winkens, I., & Kotz, S. A. (2021). Dysfunctional timing in traumatic brain injury patients: Co-occurrence of cognitive, motor, and perceptual deficits. Frontiers in Psychology, 12: 731898. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.731898.
Timing is an essential part of human cognition and of everyday life activities, such as walking or holding a conversation. Previous studies showed that traumatic brain injury (TBI) often affects cognitive functions such as processing speed and time-sensitive abilities, causing long-term sequelae as well as daily impairments. However, the existing evidence on timing capacities in TBI is mostly limited to perception and the processing of isolated intervals. It is therefore open whether the observed deficits extend to motor timing and to continuous dynamic tasks that more closely match daily life activities. The current study set out to answer these questions by assessing audio motor timing abilities and their relationship with cognitive functioning in a group of TBI patients (n=15) and healthy matched controls. We employed a comprehensive set of tasks aiming at testing timing abilities across perception and production and from single intervals to continuous auditory sequences. In line with previous research, we report functional impairments in TBI patients concerning cognitive processing speed and perceptual timing. Critically, these deficits extended to motor timing: The ability to adjust to tempo changes in an auditory pacing sequence was impaired in TBI patients, and this motor timing deficit covaried with measures of processing speed. These findings confirm previous evidence on perceptual and cognitive timing deficits resulting from TBI and provide first evidence for comparable deficits in motor behavior. This suggests basic co-occurring perceptual and motor timing impairments that may factor into a wide range of daily activities. Our results thus place TBI into the wider range of pathologies with well-documented timing deficits (such as Parkinson’s disease) and encourage the search for novel timing-based therapeutic interventions (e.g., employing dynamic and/or musical stimuli) with high transfer potential to everyday life activities.
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