(Un)awareness of unilateral spatial neglect: A quantitative evaluation of performance in visuo-spatial tasks

Right-brain-damaged patients with unilateral spatial neglect are usually unaware (anosognosic) about their spatial deficits. However, in the scientific literature there is a lack of systematic and quantitative evaluation of this kind of unawareness, despite the negative impact of anosognosia on rehabilitation programs. This study investigated anosognosia for neglect-related impairments at different clinical tasks, by means of a quantitative assessment. Patients were tested in two different conditions (before and after execution of each task), in order to evaluate changes in the level of awareness of neglect-related behaviours triggered by task execution. Twenty-nine right-brain-damaged patients (17 with left spatial neglect) and 27 neurologically unimpaired controls entered the study. Anosognosia for spatial deficits is not pervasive, with different tasks evoking different degrees of awareness about neglect symptoms. Indeed, patients showed a largely preserved awareness about their performance in complex visuo-motor spatial and reading tasks; conversely, they were impaired in evaluating their spatial difficulties in line bisection and drawing from memory, showing over-estimation of their performance. The selectivity of the patients' unawareness of specific manifestations of spatial neglect is further supported by their preserved awareness of performance at a linguistic task, and by the absence of anosognosia for hemiplegia. This evidence indicates that discrete processes are involved in the aware monitoring of cognitive and motor performance, which can be selectively compromised by brain damage. Awareness of spatial difficulties is supported by a number of distinct components, and influenced by the specific skills required to perform a given task. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Published in:
Cortex, 61, 167-182
Milano, Elsevier Masson

 Record created 2015-02-20, last modified 2018-03-17

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