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Cerebral Cortex Damage: Definition, Symptoms, and Recovery

holographic image of brain to represent cerebral cortex damage

Cerebral cortex damage can cause serious problems, depending on the location of the injury.

Because the cerebral cortex includes almost every lobe within the brain, damage to the cerebral cortex can lead to multiple issues, including problems with:

  • Cognition
  • Sensation
  • Movement
  • Behavior

Today you will learn more about cerebral cortex damage and how it can be treated.

What is the Cerebral Cortex?

The cerebral cortex acts as the outer layer of tissue that covers the cerebrum (the uppermost part of the brain, above the cerebellum).

The cerebral cortex is around 5 millimeters thick and contains nearly 70% of the brain’s 100 billion neurons. It is covered by the meninges and is composed of gray matter.

It plays a major role in cognition, but it also controls body movements and interprets sensation.

The cerebral cortex can be categorized in two different ways: hemispheres or lobes. The brain is divided into the left and right hemispheres, and it is also composed of four lobes:

  • The frontal lobe
  • The parietal lobe
  • The temporal lobe
  • The occipital lobe

Each lobe is responsible for different functions. Thus, damage to the cerebral cortex can cause many issues depending on where the injury occurred.

Symptoms of Cerebral Cortex Damage

Again, symptoms will vary based on the location of cerebral cortex damage. For example, an injury to the orbitofrontal cortex will look different than an injury to the primary motor cortex. Both of those are part of the cerebral cortex, but have vastly different functions due to their location within the brain.

The following are some of the most common symptoms of cerebral cortex damage, organized by injury location.

Frontal Lobe Damage

The frontal lobe takes up the largest area of the cerebral cortex. It is responsible for most higher cognitive skills, such as attention, planning, memory, and behavior.

A frontal lobe injury can affect most of these skills and others. Some symptoms include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Memory loss
  • Concentration problems
  • Aphasia
  • Behavioral and personality changes
  • Poor problem-solving and initiative  

Damage to the front of the cerebral cortex can also cause physical problems like weakness and paralysis.

Parietal Lobe Damage

The somatosensory cortex is located within the parietal lobe. This makes the parietal lobe responsible for processing sensory information. It also helps you process numbers.

Therefore, cerebral cortex damage that occurs in the parietal lobe can cause problems with sensation and perception. Some common signs and symptoms include: 

  • Numbness
  • Burning
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Mathematical difficulties
  • Left-side neglect
  • Loss of direction

Parietal lobe damage can also cause difficulties with writing, called agraphia. This disability does not affect a person’s intelligence. They know what they want to say, but they can no longer put the words to paper.

Temporal Lobe Damage

man putting hand behind ear because he can't hear

The auditory cortex is another part of the cerebral cortex that processes information coming from our five senses. This part resides in the brain’s temporal lobe.

The temporal lobe is located on the lower middle part of the brain, right next to your temples, above your ears. Its main responsibility revolves around processing sound. The temporal lobe also plays a role in interpreting smell and even sight.

Memory and attention are some other skills associated with the temporal lobe. In particular, the temporal lobe aids in the formation of long-term memories, as well as visual and verbal memories.

Some effects of temporal lobe damage include:

  • Hearing difficulties
  • Trouble recognizing faces and objects
  • Memory loss
  • Receptive aphasia

Temporal lobe damage can also affect a person’s selective attention. This means they have more difficulty picking out one thing to pay attention to among several other things.

For example, they would not be able to focus on a private conversation when in a loud, crowded room.

Occipital Lobe Damage

The occipital lobe, located in the back of the brain, is home to the visual cortex. It is primarily responsible for visual functions, such as:

  • Mapping the visual world.
  • Determining color.
  • Identifying familiar faces and objects
  • Transmitting visual information to the temporal lobe.

Symptoms of occipital lobe damage mainly involve vision and perception problems.

The most common sign of occipital lobe damage is different types of blindness and visual distortions, including:

  • Partial blindness (hemianopsia)
  • Word blindness (alexia)
  • Difficulty perceiving more than one object at once (Balint’s syndrome)

Finally, damage to the visual cortex can cause total blindness.

Overcoming Cerebral Cortex Damage Through Neuroplasticity

3-d image of brain floating above hands to represent neuroplasticity for cerebral cortex damage

As serious as the effects of cerebral cortex damage can be, there is always a possibility of recovery.

That’s because the brain can reassign functions that are controlled by one area of the cerebral cortex to a different, undamaged area.

This process, known as neuroplasticity, is what allows patients to regain abilities after damage to the cerebral cortex.

The brain does this by rearranging nerve cells to create new neural pathways. This process can be activated by massed practice (i.e. high repetition exercises), practicing meaningful tasks, and engaging in new learning activities.

Therefore, even if you have damaged your cerebral cortex, you might still be able to recover function.

Best Therapies for Cerebral Cortex Damage

To regain function after cerebral cortex damage, you will need to take part in rigorous therapy. The therapy you use will depend on which part of the cortex was damaged.

Here are a few types of therapy that can help you promote a successful recovery:

  • Speech therapy. If your injury caused aphasia, begin speech therapy right away. A speech therapist can teach you how to retrain your brain and regain language skills.
  • Physical and occupational therapy. To recover muscle strength and coordination after cerebral cortex damage, participate in PT. Exercising your affected limbs will stimulate your brain and rekindle the neural networks that help you move.
  • Cognitive training. This training can help improve memory, attention, problem-solving, and learning skills.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people develop positive strategies to avoid harmful actions. This therapy can be especially helpful for patients who struggle with impulsivity.
  • Sensory retraining. This training can help your brain relearn how to process your senses after temporal lobe damage.

These are only a few of the therapies and treatments that can help you overcome cerebral cortex damage. Talk to your therapist for more recommendations.

Cerebral Cortex Damage: Key Points

The cerebral cortex plays a crucial role in nearly all brain functions. Damage to it can cause many cognitive, sensory, and emotional difficulties.

But thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, there is always hope for recovery. The key is to find a therapy that fits your needs and persevere with it.

We hope this article helps you better understand cerebral cortex damage and how to recover from it.   

Featured Image: ©iStock/MARHARYTA MARKO

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