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Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1997 Sep;78(9):917-23.

Definition of agitation following traumatic brain injury: I. A survey of the Brain Injury Special Interest Group of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

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Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Ohio State University, Columbus 43210, USA.



To determine national patterns of defining agitation after traumatic brain injury (TBI) by physiatrists with expressed interest in treating TBI survivors.


A random sample of 70% of the members of the Brain Injury Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) were surveyed by telephone.


The 129 members who responded yielded an 82% response rate. Respondents rated 18 characteristics from established rating scales on a 5-point scale according to each characteristic's relation to its clinical definition of agitation. Physical aggression, explosive anger, increased psychomotor activity, impulsivity, verbal aggression, disorganized thinking, perceptual disturbances, and reduced ability to maintain or appropriately shift attention were rated by at least 50% of the sample as very important or essential to agitation. Delirium, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), has been proposed as a standard definition of agitation. The degree to which all characteristics from the 3rd revised edition of the DSM (DSM-IIIR), considered together, were perceived to relate to agitation predicted 24% of the degree to which the term "delirium" was perceived to relate to agitation (Canonical correlation r = .48, p = .0002). Physicians' ratings of individual delirium characteristics from the DSM-IIIR were examined to determine if a sufficient number were similarly ranked to fulfill the diagnostic criteria for delirium. A significant number of physicians rated diagnostic criteria for delirium in one direction, yet did not rank the term "delirium" accordingly (McNemar's p = .04).


There is considerable variation among physiatrists in their rating of characteristics that define agitation. Many define agitation during the acute recovery phase as posttraumatic amnesia plus an excess of behavior such as aggression, disinhibition, and/or emotional lability. Less support was given to defining agitation by the DSM-IIIR or DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for delirium. Delirium appears related to, but is not sufficient for, a diagnosis of agitation.

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