Rehabilitation of spatial neglect

Handb Clin Neurol. 2013:110:347-55. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-52901-5.00029-0.


Spatial neglect is a frequent cause of disability associated with high costs and duration of hospital stay, increased family burden, and requirements for skilled chronic care. This condition is disproportionately more frequent with right than left hemispheric injury and it is characterized by perceptual, representational, and behavioral deficits involving or directed towards the left hemispace or the left hemibody. Spatial dysfunction is conceptualized into two major components: the perceptual/representational "where" component that results mainly from injury to posterior brain regions and the premotor/intentional "aiming" component that results mostly from damage to anterior brain regions. Additionally, deficits in arousal, vigilance, affective symptoms, and disorders of emotional communication may compound the clinical manifestations of spatial neglect. Evidence-based sources that evaluate the effectiveness of rehabilitation treatments for neglect are, unfortunately, unable to provide a unified consensus for the efficacy of a given treatment approach. The reasons for this failure are related to internal inconsistencies defining appropriate criteria for treatment success and lack of characterization of neglect mechanisms and considerations of patient characteristics related to treatment failure. In this chapter we advocate the use of visual scanning, limb activation therapy, and "general treatment" because we believe that they are appropriately supported by different sources and they may be useful for experimental trials and standardized clinical care. We advocate an integrative approach that takes advantage of the same rehabilitation strategy or task to treat different perceptual, representational, and premotor components of neglect. A variety of therapies that may be familiar to the rehabilitation team may be useful as long as they are applied in a systematized program and are based on good clinical judgment. Information regarding adjuvant pharmacological therapy is sparse but different agents with aminergic and cholinergic activity may be useful. Medication with sedative, antidopaminergic or anticholinergic properties may interfere with the rehabilitation process and should be avoided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Perceptual Disorders / drug therapy
  • Perceptual Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Space Perception / physiology*