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Parietal Lobe Damage: Understanding Symptoms and Treatments

medical illustration of brain highlighting parietal lobe damage

Parietal lobe damage can severely impair a person’s ability to process sensations such as hot/cold, smooth/rough, etc.

You’re about to discover all the major symptoms of parietal lobe injury and some of the best ways to treat it.

But before we dig into the various side effects and treatment methods, let’s start with an overview of the parietal lobe’s main functions.

Understanding Parietal Lobe Damage

The parietal lobe rests near the top, middle section of the cerebral cortex, just behind the frontal lobe and above the temporal lobes.

The parietal lobe can be separated into two distinct regions with two separate but related functions.

On one side of the parietal lobe lies the somatosensory cortex. This cortex processes all bodily sensations such as pain, weight, and temperature. It’s the reason you know something hot is touching your hand and not your foot, for example. Without the parietal lobe, your brain would not register these sensations from the environment.

The other role of the parietal lobe is to construct a spatial system in the mind to represent the world around us. This is what allows a person to maintain a sense of direction even with their eyes closed. This also explains why you can know the position of different parts of your body without looking at them.

Therefore, because the parietal lobe plays such a critical role in our ability to interpret the outside world, damage to it can have a serious impact on a person’s life.

Symptoms of Parietal Lobe Damage

Parietal lobe injuries can cause a variety of sensory and perception problems. The following are a few examples of what happens when the parietal lobe is damaged:

1. Sensory problems

man pointing finger at camera, his finger is clear and in focus, but his face and everything behind him is out of focus

As we discussed above, the sensory cortex is located in the parietal lobe. Therefore, sensory problems are a common symptom of parietal lobe damage.

These issues can include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • difficulty sensing hot and cold

Damage to the parietal lobe can also cause problems with localization. In other words, you are unable to detect the location where something is touching you. You may feel a sensation, but you cannot tell if it is touching you on the head or foot.

2. Vision Problems

While vision and perception are usually considered functions of the occipital lobe, the parietal lobe also plays an important role in vision.

This is because the nerve fibers that carry visual information must pass through the parietal lobe on their way to the occipital lobe. Thus, if the parietal lobe is damaged, those nerve signals can’t travel as easily.

Parietal lobe damage makes it more difficult to process certain visual information such as length and depth.

This leads to poor hand-eye coordination and balance, as well as several other eye problems.

3. Left Side Neglect

half filled plate over a background that is half yellow and half blue. Concept to illustrate left neglect, a symptom of parietal lobe damage

Another common symptom of parietal lobe damage is hemispatial neglect. This causes a person to lose awareness of one entire side of their body, usually the left side. It is commonly associated with lesions on the posterior parietal cortex.

People with hemineglect do not see, feel, or hear anything on their affected side. It is as if that entire side no longer exists for them. Some people with hemineglect don’t realize the arm on their neglected side is their own.

Other signs that a person has spatial neglect include:

  • Brushing hair on only one side of their head
  • Eating food from only one side of their plate
  • Bumping into objects on their left
  • Ignoring people speaking to them from their left side

This also affects the way space is represented in the mind. For example, one famous study asked patients to close their eyes and visualize a room. When asked to describe what they saw, all the patients with hemineglect could only picture objects on their right side. They could not imagine anything on their left.

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4. Balint’s Syndrome

Bilateral damage to the parietal lobe can cause a problem known as Balint’s syndrome. This disorder causes problems with visual attention and movement.

The symptoms of Balint’s syndrome include:

  • Optic Ataxia. Difficulty accurately reaching for an object you are looking at.
  • Oculomotor Apraxia. Inability to move your eyes intentionally towards an object.
  • Visual Simultagnosia. Inability to integrate parts of a visual picture into a whole picture. For example, when looking at a picture of a face, a person with Balint’s syndrome would only see eyes, or lips, or a nose. They would not be able to see a whole face at once.

A person with Balint’s syndrome would also have difficulty reading, because they could only see one letter at a time.

5. Gerstmann Syndrome

man struggling to read map because he has Gerstmann Syndrome, a symptom of parietal lobe damage

Finally, parietal lobe damage may cause something called Gerstmann syndrome, which occurs when several symptoms of parietal lobe injury coincide. The most common features of Gerstmann syndrome include:

  • Left-right confusion (inability to distinguish your left side from your right side)
  • Agraphia (inability to write)
  • Mathematical difficulties
  • Aphasia

Gerstromm syndrome can also include anosognosia, which is the inability to recognize that you have a physical or mental disability.

Anosognosia can be a particularly devastating condition after brain injury because it makes it difficult for a person to actively participate in therapy.

As a result, their recovery is severely slowed down and their function may even decline.

Treating Parietal Lobe Damage

Fortunately, there are several possible ways to treat parietal lobe injuries. The key is to tailor your treatment to address your specific symptoms.

The following are a few examples of therapies that can help treat the effects of parietal lobe damage:

  • Sensory retraining exercises. The best way to regain your sensation is through sensory retraining. Sensory retraining uses different exercises to help the brain relearn how to process sensation again. It’s proven effective at helping people recover feeling again.
  • Proprioceptive training. To recover your sense of your body in space, you will once again need to activate neuroplasticity. Some techniques include balance exercises and passive movement training. Physical therapy and/or occupational therapy treatments can provide a more structured plan for recovery.
  • Visual scanning training. This therapy aims to improve left-side neglect by encouraging patients to consciously pay attention to their left. The tasks usually start at a few degrees past midline and work out from there. 

Parietal Lobe Injuries

Parietal lobe damage may limit your ability to process your senses.

However, because it generally doesn’t involve any physical weakness or cognitive issues, parietal lobe injuries have a much higher potential for recovery than other types of brain injuries.

For example, your injury may include decreased sensation in your arm. But since you can still move it, you can participate in beneficial therapies that can help you regain sensation.

Even if your injury is severe, because of your brain’s natural ability to adapt and heal, there is potential for recovery, as long as you continue with therapy.

We hope this guide to parietal lobe damage helps you find the right treatment you need to make a full recovery.

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