Posted by Sanya Naware MSIV, Drexel University College of Medicine
What would it feel like to only perceive one half of the world around you?
For patients with hemispatial neglect, this is an everyday reality. Hemispatial neglect or hemineglect is a condition in which damage to one hemisphere of the brain causes a lack of awareness of one contralateral side of space. It is most often a lesion of the right posterior parietal cortex affecting the contralateral side of the body. The person is unable to recognize stimuli or process them on the affected side. Left neglect is more common than right neglect because the right hemisphere is able to compensate for the loss of left hemispheric function.
Because these patients only perceive one side, they only draw what we know to be half of an image as seen in the video and image below:
Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, expertly describes the daily challenges of living with neglect in her book Left Neglected. It is a difficult condition to imagine and this book does a wonderful job of explaining the realities and frustrations of the patient and her family.
The main character, Sarah Nickerson, suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. When she wakes up, everyone around her realizes that she ignores the left side of everything. Whether it is a clock, a painting, or a room around her, she is not able to recognize the left side of anything. While she is able to feel the left side of her body, she has to focus on the fact that she has a left side in order to control her left leg and walk. In fact, when she first sees her left arm, she states that it feels like it belongs to another person, a problem called somatoparaphrenia. While eating, she only eats the food on the right side of her tray. She frequently bumps into objects on the left side of her body because she is unaware of their presence.
Sarah’s story is optimistic as her therapist and family use certain tricks to help her adjust. Some of these methods include placing bright orange tape on the left side of things around their home, using a ruler to guide her to the left side of the page, and wearing shiny jewelry on her left hand to attract attention to it.
Genova ends her book by endorsing the New England Handicapped Sports Association (NEHSA), an organization of volunteers who help people like Sarah find some independence and confidence.
Click here to find out more about right hemispheric brain damage from NEHSA.