Thursday, March 1st, 2018
Last modified on February 7th, 2020
Have you ever heard someone describe themselves as “right-brained” or “left-brained”? This concept is based on the brain having two hemispheres that perform different, specialized functions. Creative types have a dominant right brain, while analytical people favor the left. It is necessary to understand the functions of both hemispheres when assessing consequences of neurological damage. This knowledge helps anticipate problems that might occur and customize strategies for recovery.
Although the brain is divided into two hemispheres, they work in tandem to absorb information and process details. For instance, visual signals are sent to the right hemisphere first, but the left hemisphere uses context from past experiences to comprehend what the right brain has “seen”.
A left-brain stroke comes with a particular set of symptoms, changes, and challenges. An understanding of these consequences may ease the frustrations of stroke survivors and their families during the recovery process.
The left hemisphere is responsible for controlling the logic of information processing. Common functions of the left hemisphere include the following:
In a way, the left hemisphere processes information in words and numbers, as opposed to images, as the right hemisphere does. This lends to the common belief that “right-brain thinkers” are often more “creative” types, while left-brain thinkers are more analytical and mathematical.
On a physical level, the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. Most physical impairments and paralysis after a stroke stem from issues in the brain, not in the impaired limb itself. Right-sided limbs are likely to suffer complications after a left-brain stroke, possibly resulting in hemiplegia—the paralysis of one side of the body.
Those recovering from a stroke may experience paralysis in certain limbs, and/or less severe symptoms including motor function impairment, muscle weakness, and spasticity. A combination of impairments can make daily life more challenging, both physically and psychologically.
Since the left hemisphere bears most of the responsibility for receiving and deciphering language, a left-brain stroke can often impair both speech production and the interpretation of word-based information. These impairments are collectively known as aphasia, and the consequences for everyday life depend on the type of aphasia experienced.
The effects of aphasia become particularly complex when stroke survivors try to express their needs, especially during the initial stages of recovery. Someone may intend to ask for water but end up asking for something else entirely because they cannot find the right words. Depending on where the neurological damage occurred, stroke survivors may experience a combination of both types of aphasia.
Since analytical tasks default to the left hemisphere, a left-brain stroke may impair the management of common household and daily activities. Paying bills, handling money, or taking care of other analytical tasks may become more difficult. The stroke survivor may become dependent on family or a caretaker to complete important organizational tasks.
It is common for those with left-brain injuries to process information more slowly and therefore move with more caution. Rushing may cause confusion or even injury. The inability to move quickly may lead to frustration and even periods of anger or depression.
Vision issues are particularly common in the right eye after a left-brain stroke. Potential problems include drooping of the eyelid and impaired blood flow to the retina. The stroke survivor may experience hemianopia, or blindness in half of the visual field.
Agnosia—the inability to recognize and name items—may also occur for the same reasons that produce aphasia. An injury to brain regions that manage naming and recognition may prevent the survivor from identifying common items, adding a sensation of foreignness and confusion to daily life.
Though changes after a left-brain stroke are often abrupt and severe, the brain has an incredible ability to adjust and even reconnect neurological pathways. This ability is called neuroplasticity and occurs before you’re even born. Throughout childhood and adulthood, new pathways form as new information is absorbed by the brain. After an injury, the brain’s neuroplasticity can be sparked to form new neurons and connections through the repetition of targeted rehabilitation exercises. It is only through this constant repetition that the brain rewires and brings to life the lost connections.
Exercises that focus on the right side of the body and reinforce analytical reasoning are the most effective methods to support the regrowth of neurological pathways in the left hemisphere. After all, the body and mind are forever learning. This is true even if portions of the brain are no longer fully functional. Neural functions can adjust and change, for the better, through the support of ongoing rehabilitation.
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