PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: To investigate how the type of stimulus (pictures or words) and the method of reproduction (free recall or recognition after a short or a long delay) affect the sensitivity and specificity of a 3-item memory test in the assessment of post traumatic amnesia (PTA).
METHODS: Daily testing was performed in 64 consecutively admitted traumatic brain injured patients, 22 orthopedically injured patients and 26 healthy controls until criteria for resolution of PTA were reached. Subjects were randomly assigned to a test with visual or verbal stimuli. Short delay reproduction was tested after an interval of 3-5 minutes, long delay reproduction was tested after 24 hours. Sensitivity and specificity were calculated over the first 4 test days.
RESULTS: The 3-word test showed higher sensitivity than the 3-picture test, while specificity of the two tests was equally high. Free recall was a more effortful task than recognition for both patients and controls. In patients, a longer delay between registration and recall resulted in a significant decrease in the number of items reproduced.
CONCLUSIONS: Presence of PTA is best assessed with a memory test that incorporates the free recall of words after a long delay.