Cognitive-Motor Dissociation Following Pediatric Brain Injury: What About the Children?

Nayoung Kim, James O'Sullivan, Emily Olafson, Eric Caliendo, Sophie Nowak, Henning U. Voss, Ryan Lowder, William D. Watson, Jana Ivanidze, Joseph J. Fins, Nicholas D. Schiff, N. Jeremy Hill, Sudhin A. Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background and ObjectivesFollowing severe brain injury, up to 16% of adults showing no clinical signs of cognitive function nonetheless have preserved cognitive capacities detectable via neuroimaging and neurophysiology; this has been designated cognitive-motor dissociation (CMD). Pediatric medicine lacks both practice guidelines for identifying covert cognition and epidemiologic data regarding CMD prevalence.MethodsWe applied a diverse battery of neuroimaging and neurophysiologic tests to evaluate 2 adolescents (aged 15 and 18 years) who had shown no clinical evidence of preserved cognitive function following brain injury at age 9 and 13 years, respectively. Clinical evaluations were consistent with minimally conscious state (minus) and vegetative state, respectively.ResultsBoth participants' EEG, and 1 participant's fMRI, provided evidence that they could understand commands and make consistent voluntary decisions to follow them. Both participants' EEG demonstrated larger-than-expected responses to auditory stimuli and intact semantic processing of words in context.DiscussionThese converging lines of evidence lead us to conclude that both participants had preserved cognitive function dissociated from their motor output. Throughout the 5+ years since injury, communication attempts and therapy had remained uninformed by such objective evidence of their cognitive abilities. Proper diagnosis of CMD is an ethical imperative. Children with covert cognition reflect a vulnerable and isolated population; the methods outlined here provide a first step in identifying such persons to advance efforts to alleviate their condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-257
Number of pages10
JournalNeurology: Clinical Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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