OBJECTIVE. This systematic review evaluates the effectiveness of sensory stimulation to improve arousal and alertness of people in a coma or persistent vegetative state after traumatic brain injury (TBI).

METHOD. Databases searched included Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, OTseeker, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The search was limited to outcomes studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals between 2008 and 2013.

RESULTS. Included studies provide strong evidence that multimodal sensory stimulation improves arousal and enhances clinical outcomes for people in a coma or persistent vegetative state after TBI. Moderate evidence was also provided for auditory stimulation, limited evidence was provided for complex stimuli, and insufficient evidence was provided for median nerve stimulation.

CONCLUSION. Interventions should be tailored to client tolerance and premorbid preferences. Bimodal or multimodal stimulation should begin early, be frequent, and be sustained until more complex activity is possible.

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