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Right Hemisphere Brain Damage: What to Expect During the Recovery Process

diagram of the two brain hemispheres to illustrate right hemisphere brain damage

If you have sustained right hemisphere brain damage, you’re in the right place. We’re here to shed some light on the brain injury recovery process.

The brain is one of the most complex organs in the body. A traumatic injury to any area of the brain, including the right hemisphere, can result in a variety of secondary effects.

To help you better understand and cope with right hemisphere brain damage, this article will discuss:

Understanding Right Hemisphere Brain Damage Symptoms

To understand how a right hemisphere brain injury will affect you or your loved one, you must understand how the brain works.

The brain is divided into two sides, called the right and left hemispheres. In general, the left half controls a person’s logical and verbal functions, while the right half is in charge of non-verbal and intuitive functions.

Some of these non-verbal, intuitive functions of the right hemisphere include:

  • Memory
  • Visual and spatial abilities
  • Emotions
  • Imagination
  • Facial recognition
  • Musical ability.

Damage to the right hemisphere can affect all of these abilities and more. In addition, the right side of your brain controls movement and perception on the left side of your body.

Therefore, after an injury to the right hemisphere, you may have trouble moving muscles on your left side.

Secondary Effects of Right Hemisphere Brain Damage

An injury to the right side of your brain can result in many cognitive difficulties. It can also affect some language abilities.

Below is a list of the most common effects of right hemisphere brain damage.

1. Attention and Concentration Problems

girl sitting in class looking bored and distracted

Right hemisphere brain damage often causes difficulties concentrating and focusing on a task. It can also make it hard to follow a conversation or focus on what another person is saying.

One area of the right hemisphere that plays a major role in attention is the lateral intraparietal cortex. This area helps us visually focus on important objects and filter out other stimuli. It’s how you can pay attention to the road when driving, for example.

When this region is damaged in an injury, it becomes almost impossible to filter out other information. As a result, the person’s attention skills are severely reduced.

2. Memory and Orientation Problems

Right hemisphere brain damage can also lead to problems remembering new and old information, as well as difficulties recalling the date, time, or place.

Several brain regions are involved in the processes of memory and new learning, and damage to any of these areas can cause memory problems. Some of the main areas of the brain that are in charge of memory include the:

Damage to the right side of any of these structures can lead to memory problems, which explains why right hemisphere injuries often cause memory loss.

3. Muscle Weakness and Left-Side Neglect

plate of food half full on the left side to represent right hemisphere brain damage

As discussed above, each hemisphere of the brain controls movement on the opposite side of the body. Therefore, brain damage to the right hemisphere often leads to muscle weakness on the left side.

In addition, right-side brain injuries can cause problems with processing information in the left visual field, often called left-side neglect.

A person with left-side neglect may not notice any objects on their left side, as their brain is having trouble processing information from this side of their environment. They will also have trouble reading words on the left half of a page, and may even ignore food on the left side of their plate.

Often, people with left-side neglect will not even realize they have a problem. This is related to another secondary effect of brain damage called anosognosia, which we will cover in more detail later on in this article.

4. Problems with Facial Recognition (Prosopagnosia)

Brain damage to the right side of the brain can lead to an inability to recognize the faces of familiar people or loved ones. If you have this condition, looking at the face of your best friend can feel like looking at a stranger.

Prosopagnosia is caused by lesions to the fusiform face area located on the inferior temporal cortex. Some patients with prosopagnosia can still recognize facial expressions and cues, but some with more severe agnosia cannot. For example, they would not know that a smile means the person is happy, etc.   

However, prosopagnosia does not make you forget a person or mean you have no way of identifying them. For example, a TBI patient with this condition can still recognize their husband or wife’s voice and remember who they are.

Prosopagnosia is one of the many types of agnosia a person can experience after TBI.

5. Social Communication Problems

two friends talking on beach

The right side of the brain plays a crucial role in social skills, which can be lost after brain injury. For example, people with right hemisphere damage can have difficulty interpreting abstract language such as metaphors. They also have trouble understanding humor and non-verbal cues.

Finally, right-side brain injuries can affect a person’s empathy. This will make it difficult to understand another person’s emotions and point-of-view. As a result, they will sometimes accidentally say inappropriate or rude comments.

6. Insight and Organization Problems

Right hemisphere brain damage can make it difficult to arrange information. It can cause problems with executive functioning skills such as organizing and planning basic tasks.

Damage to the right hemisphere can also lead to impaired judgment and safety hazards. That is because it affects a person’s insight, which refers to the ability to understand the consequences of an action.

In addition, right hemisphere damage will cause difficulties with self-awareness. This once again will make it hard for the person to control their own actions.

7. Problems with Reasoning and Problem Solving

problem solving after right side brain injury can be impaired

Generally, the left side of the brain is in charge of logic and reason. However, the right side does have a role to play in those skills as well. Because the right side controls our imagination and helps us organize information, it allows us to perceive things more fully and generate creative solutions. If the right side of the brain is damaged, this can severely hamper a person’s ability to identify and solve problems.

8. Problems with Musicality of Speech (Monotone Voice)

The right hemisphere affects a person’s awareness and appreciation of music, and this awareness also plays a part in the way we speak.

Normal speech has a natural melody to it. As we speak, our voices fluctuate between different pitches and tones to convey mood and emphasis. When a person suffers damage to the right side of their brain, not only is their ability to appreciate music diminished, but they may have trouble picking up on the subtle changes in pitch or tone during their speech.

This diminished musical ability causes the person to sound monotone when speaking, giving them an almost robotic-like voice.

9. Emotional Problems

emotional changes may occur after right side brain injury

The emotion center of the brain is located in the right hemisphere. Therefore, damage to the right hemisphere will cause your emotions to sometimes feel out of your control.

After a right-side brain injury, a person can experience two different types of emotional difficulties. They are known clinically as pseudobulbar affect and flat affect syndromes.

  • Pseudobulbar Affect Syndrome causes extreme mood swings after brain injury. You may go from laughing to crying in a matter of seconds, for no apparent reason. You can also fly into fits of rage after a small inconvenience.
  • Flat Affect is a severe reduction in emotional expressiveness, which is typically seen through a lack of facial expressions. This condition can also reduce a person’s verbal expression of emotion.

10. Denial Syndrome (Anosognosia)

Anosognosia is a common effect of right hemisphere brain damage. It occurs when the patient denies that they have any effects of brain injury at all.

While it might seem like this is a psychological coping mechanism, it is actually deeper than that. The person truly cannot tell that anything has changed, meaning they have poor insight into their deficits.

The root cause of agnosia is unknown, but there is some evidence that it is a neurological problem. For example, in anosognosia patients, the part of the brain that detects feedback from the left side of the body malfunctions. As a result, the person feels like they can move their left side when in reality they cannot.

This can make it difficult or nearly impossible to get the person to participate in therapy, and it can also cause great safety concerns.

Rehabilitation Methods for Right Hemisphere Brain Injury

The road to recovery after a brain injury is often a long one. Fortunately, you should have a team of medical professionals helping you every step of the way.

Here are some common rehabilitation methods used to treat a right hemisphere brain injury:

  • Physical therapy. To restore movement and strength, your best option is to practice physical therapy exercises that utilize your affected muscles. Massed practice of PT exercises help your brain rebuild and strengthen neural pathways that control movement via neuroplasticity.
  • Occupational therapy. This type of therapy will guide you in ways to increase your independence with daily tasks again. Due to executive functioning problems and possibly muscle weakness, basic tasks such as getting dressed and using the bathroom may become very challenging, which is where OT can help.
  • Cognitive exercises. Practicing memory games and other cognitive exercises for TBI patients can help you improve and regain your cognitive abilities.
  • Speech therapy. To treat social deficits or issues involving musicality of speech, see a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). These specialists can assess your unique problem areas and create a custom rehabilitation program catered to you. Some speech apps, like the CT Speech & Cognitive Therapy App, can also help.
  • Psychotherapy. A professional neuropsychologist can help treat emotional disturbances after TBI like pseudobulbar affect or flat affect. Some can also help treat anosognosia.

Everyone will recover from brain injury differently because every injury is different. Your rehabilitation team can help create a recovery program that’s suited for your needs.

The Road to Recovery

Right hemisphere damage can cause a variety of problems. But if you persevere with your therapy, it is possible to regain the abilities you’ve lost — even years after injury.

This is possible because your brain possesses a natural ability to rewire itself and allow healthy portions of the brain to take over functions from damaged areas.

By practicing your therapy exercises every day, you can activate neuroplasticity and recover from the effects of right-side brain injury.

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Get Inspired with This TBI Recovery Story

Independance, motivation and hope!

“My son Sharat suffered a severe traumatic brain injury 23 years ago leaving him with Aphasia and right sided weakness from his vision,hearing to his limbs. The lockdown in June was a great challenge for him as his caregivers stopped coming, no gym workouts and no outings for a coffee.

Being his mother and primary carer I feared that this was a hotbed for depression. I scoured the net and chanced upon FlintRehab. As there was a trial period it was safe for us to risk getting it across to Auckland.

His OT checked it out and felt that it was ideal. I can honestly second this.

He enjoys working on it and now after three months can do it on his own. His left hand helps his right hand. The FitMi video explains and shows him what to do, it gives him marks and applauds him too!!

He has to use both sides of his brain. The caregivers are OT students who returned enjoy working on it with him.

In three months there motivation built up in him with a drive to use his right hand. There is definitely a slight improvement in his right hand.

This encourages him as well as the caregivers to try harder.His overall mood is upbeat. He enjoys it, so much so, that it doesn’t matter if his caregiver is away.

FitMi is a blessing.”

Sharat’s review of FitMi home therapy, 10/10/2020

5 stars

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