Hemineglect, or How Half Your Body Stops “Existing”
The prefix “hemi” means a half of something. In this case what it’s talking about is your field of view. The word “neglect” means an oversight or lack of attention towards something. This could lead you to make mistakes that could be dangerous for you and the people around you.
If you bring this concept over to the world of brain damage, you’ll see that hemineglect means a lack of attention in one half of your body. More specifically it means that there’s a complete lack of attention towards every kind of stimulus (hearing, touch, sight…) that might occur on that side of your body.
Hemineglect and its power to make what’s on your left disappear
It’s almost like the people with this condition aren’t seeing what happens on that side of their body. It’s strange to notice, but that’s the feeling you get when you’re talking to or observing a patient with hemineglect.
The truth is that they can perfectly perceive the stimulus in front of that field of view. The problem is more with their attention. They don’t pay any attention to that part of their body. It’s like it stopped existing. But when you get them to focus their attention on that side they end up perceiving it perfectly. It doesn’t matter what kind of stimulus it is, they’re conscious of it.
As we know, there are two different hemispheres in our brains. When one of those hemispheres suffers from brain damage, one thing that is especially affected is the part of your body that’s on the opposite side of the damaged hemisphere. That is, it affects the contralesional, or opposite part of your body.
When you damage the right side, the left side feels the effects
That’s why if the damage happened in the right hemisphere, the most affected part of your body will probably be the left side. On the other hand, if it happened in your left hemisphere, it will affect the right side of your body. These bodily effects can range from hemiparesis (partial paralysis) up to hemiplegia (total paralysis), among other things.
Hemineglect normally happens with brain damage linked to the right hemisphere. Or at least that’s more common. This means that it will affect the left side of the body. That’s the side that anyone with the condition will stop paying attention to like it doesn’t exist anymore. They won’t turn towards their left and aren’t able to respond to any stimuli coming from that area.
Patients with hemineglect only focus their attention on the side they control with their healthier brain hemisphere. Most of the time, that’s the right half. It’s common to feel like these patients aren’t listening to you when you talk to them from their left. But this completely changes when you say the exact same things, except now on their right side.
Compensation strategies are the most effective when it comes to treating hemineglect
“Oh, I didn’t see you! I’m so sorry!” That’s the most common reaction when something like this happens. That’s why one of the things neuropsychology does is work on their completely “damaged” attention. How does it do that? Well, by helping them redirect their attention to the hemisphere contralateral (opposite) to the wound.
You also have to increase their awareness of the fact that they have this deficit. That’s because a lot of the time hemineglect comes along with anosognosia. It’s a phenomenon where the patient isn’t aware of their issues.
And that’s why you have to help them become aware their issue. That way they’ll be able to compensate for it and become their own guides when they can’t find what they’re looking for. The thing they can’t find is probably on their left side, the side that “stopped existing.”