An immersive virtual reality tool for assessing left and right unilateral spatial neglect

J Neuropsychol. 2024 Jan 15. doi: 10.1111/jnp.12361. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

The reported rate of the occurrence of unilateral spatial neglect (USN) is highly variable likely due to the lack of validity and low sensitivity of classical tools used to assess it. Virtual reality (VR) assessments try to overcome these limitations by proposing immersive and complex environments. Nevertheless, existing VR-based tasks are mostly focused only on near space and lack analysis of psychometric properties and/or clinical validation. The present study evaluates the clinical validity and sensitivity of a new immersive VR-based task to assess USN in the extra-personal space and examines the neuronal correlates of deficits of far space exploration. The task was administrated to two groups of patients with right (N = 28) or left (N = 11) hemispheric brain lesions, also undergoing classical paper-and-pencil assessment, as well as a group of healthy participants. Our VR-based task detected 44% of neglect cases compared to 31% by paper-and-pencil tests in the total sample. Importantly, 30% of the patients (with right or left brain lesions) with no clear sign of USN on the paper-and-pencil tests performed outside the normal range in the VR-based task. Voxel lesion-symptom mapping revealed that deficits detected in VR were associated with lesions in insular and temporal cortex, part of the neural network involved in spatial processing. These results show that our immersive VR-based task is efficient and sensitive in detecting mild to strong manifestations of USN affecting the extra-personal space, which may be undetected using standard tools.

Keywords: complex environment space; unilateral spatial neglect; virtual reality.