Numeracy skills in patients with degenerative disorders and focal brain lesions: a neuropsychological investigation

Neuropsychology. 2012 Jan;26(1):1-19. doi: 10.1037/a0026328. Epub 2011 Nov 28.


Objective: To characterize the numerical profile of patients with acquired brain disorders.

Method: We investigated numeracy skills in 76 participants--40 healthy controls and 36 patients with neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer dementia, frontotemporal dementia, semantic dementia, progressive aphasia) and with focal brain lesions affecting parietal, frontal, and temporal areas as in herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE). All patients were tested with the same comprehensive battery of paper-and-pencil and computerized tasks assessing numerical abilities and calculation. Degenerative and HSE patients also performed nonnumerical semantic tasks.

Results: Our results, based on nonparametric group statistics as well as on the analysis of individual patients, and all highly significant, show that: (a) all patients, including those with parietal lesions--a key brain area for numeracy processing--had intact processing of number quantity; (b) patients with impaired semantic knowledge had much better preserved numerical knowledge; and (c) most patients showed impaired calculation skills, with the exception of most semantic dementia and HSE patients.

Conclusion: Our results allow us, for the first time, to characterize the numeracy skills in patients with a variety of neurological conditions and to suggest that the pattern of numerical performance can vary considerably across different neurological populations. Moreover, the selective sparing of calculation skills in most semantic dementia and HSE suggest that numerical abilities are an independent component of the semantic system. Finally, our data suggest that, besides the parietal areas, other brain regions might be critical to the understanding and processing of numerical concepts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Aphasia / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition*
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex / psychology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / physiopathology
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / psychology
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration / psychology
  • Humans
  • Knowledge
  • Male
  • Mathematical Concepts*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Semantics
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology