Aphasia: Performance Influenced By Spatial Attention

June 01, 1998

On the start of National Aphasia Awareness Week, neurocognition specialists indicate that motor and language performance can be influenced by spatial attention in aphasia patients with parietal lobe lesions. According to H. Branch Coslett, M.D., Director of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Disorders at Temple University School of Medicine, "these findings suggest that motor and language tasks are improved by controlling the location to which attention is directed."

According to the National Aphasia Association, there are approximately twice as many people in the U.S. who have Aphasia as there are individuals with Parkinson's Disease. An estimated one million people, or one out of every 275 adults in the U.S., has some type of Aphasia. However, based upon survey research the general public knows very little about this disability. Temple's Center for Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Research has collected data for a number of years to better understand hemispatial effects on motor and language processes.

Preliminary data suggests that the processing of verbal stimuli is impaired when attention is directed in a location mediated by the parietal lobe lesion. According to Dr. Coslett, "These findings demonstrate that performance on motor, sensory, naming and reading tasks is improved when attention is directed to the location not mediated by the lesion."

This is because the left hemisphere controls the right side and the right hemisphere the left side of space. Subjects with left parietal lesions performed better when attention was directed to stimuli in the left side of their environment, and those with right parietal lesions showed a similar effect when attending to stimuli in the right side of space.

Aphasia is a heartbreaking disorder in which the primary symptom is the impairment of one's ability to express oneself when speaking. This debilitating condition is most often caused by a stroke, but it also can result from head injury, cerebral tumor or other causes like Alzheimer's disease. An estimated 700,000 individuals suffer strokes each year in the U.S. with approximately 80,000 resulting in Aphasia. Risk factors for a stroke include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels.

"We believe that performance on a wide array of cognitive tasks will be better facilitated when Aphasic individuals direct their attention to the appropriate location not controlled by the area of their parietal lesion," indicates Dr. Coslett.

Temple University

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