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Right Hemisphere Brain Damage: What to Expect and How to Recover

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

Right hemisphere brain damage can affect a wide variety of motor, cognitive, and emotional functions. For example, it can cause difficulties with memory or paralysis on the left side of the body. Being aware of the potential effects of right hemisphere brain damage can help you quickly identify complications and seek treatment to improve your quality of life.

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

Right Hemisphere Functions

To understand how a right hemisphere brain injury will affect you or your loved one, it helps to understand what functions are regulated by the right side of the brain. The brain is divided into two sides: the right and left hemispheres. In general, the left hemisphere controls a person’s logical and verbal functions, while the right hemisphere is in charge of non-verbal and intuitive functions.

Some non-verbal, intuitive functions that the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for regulating include:

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

Additionally, the right side of the brain controls movement and perception on the opposite (contralateral) side of the body. Therefore, the ability to move the left side of your body and process visual stimuli on the left side is all attributed to the right hemisphere of the brain.

When the right hemisphere of the brain sustains damage, individuals may experience various secondary effects that lead to difficulties performing tasks that require these functions. Up next, we’ll discuss 10 potential effects of right hemisphere brain damage.

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Right Hemisphere Brain Damage Symptoms

An injury to the right hemisphere of the brain can result in many cognitive and physical difficulties, which can affect your ability to process information, interact with your surroundings, and communicate with others.

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

1. Attention and Concentration Problems

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. For example, it plays a major role in paying attention to pertinent signs on the road while driving, while filtering out less important environmental information such as billboards.

When this region is damaged in an injury, it becomes extremely challenging to filter out other stimuli. 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. 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 memory loss is one of the most common outcomes of right hemisphere brain injury.

3. Muscle Weakness and Left-Side Neglect

left neglect after right hemisphere brain damage

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 or paralysis on the left side of the body.

In addition, right hemisphere 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 objects on their left side, as their brain is having trouble processing information from this side of their environment. They may also have trouble reading words on the left half of a page and even ignore food on the left side of their plate.

There are various ways to work on managing and improving left-side neglect, including sitting on an individual’s left side when talking with them and putting an ending point (such as a bright yellow bookmark) on the left edge of a page to encourage reading all the way across.

Often, individuals with left-side neglect are unaware that 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)

Right hemisphere brain damage can lead to the inability to recognize familiar faces known as prosopagnosia. If you have this condition, looking at the face of your best friend may feel like looking at a stranger.

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

However, prosopagnosia does not make you forget a person or mean you have no way of identifying them. For example, individuals with this condition are often able to recognize their loved ones’ voices and identify them in other ways.

5. Social Communication Problems

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

Additionally, right-side brain injuries can affect a person’s empathy. This makes it challenging to understand another person’s emotions and point of view. As a result, individuals may make inappropriate or rude comments.

6. Insight and Organization Problems

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

Additionally, damage to the right hemisphere may lead to impaired judgment when it affects a person’s insight or ability to understand the consequences of an action. Often, individuals with right hemisphere brain damage struggle with self-awareness, which can make it challenging to control their actions.

7. Problems with Reasoning and Problem Solving

Generally, the left side of the brain is in charge of logic and reason. However, the right side contributes to 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 hemisphere 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. 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 hemisphere of the 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

girl lacking emotion after right hemisphere brain injury

Major parts of the emotion center of the brain are located in the right hemisphere. Therefore, damage to the right hemisphere may cause you to feel emotionally out of control. Two conditions that may develop after right hemisphere brain damage include 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 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.

Right Hemisphere Brain Damage Treatment

Working with a diverse team of rehabilitation specialists can help ensure that all the secondary effects of right hemisphere brain damage are addressed.

Some common rehabilitation therapies used to treat right hemisphere brain injuries include:

  • Physical therapy. To restore movement and strength, your best option is to practice physical therapy exercises that utilize your affected muscles. A PT will guide you through targeted exercises to stimulate the muscles and strengthen connections to the brain.
  • Occupational therapy. Due to executive functioning problems or muscle weakness, basic tasks such as getting dressed and using the bathroom may become very challenging. An occupational therapist can help you develop your independence by teaching you new ways to perform everyday activities.
  • Cognitive exercises. Practicing memory games and other cognitive exercises can stimulate the brain and improve cognitive functioning.
  • Speech therapy. If you experience social deficits or issues involving musicality of speech, a speech-language pathologist can help teach you techniques to become a more effective communicator.
  • Psychotherapy. A psychotherapist can help individuals address their emotional problems after TBI and suggest more effective ways to cope.

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

This is possible because your brain possesses a natural ability to rewire itself known as neuroplasticity. By practicing your therapy exercises every day, you can stimulate the brain and reinforce demand for those functions. This encourages the brain to make adaptive changes and rewire affected functions to unaffected regions of the brain. The more you practice, the better these skills will become.  

Right Hemisphere Brain Damage: Key Points

Right hemisphere brain damage can affect a wide range of cognitive functions and impair motor control on the left side of the body. Fortunately, these skills can often be improved through highly repetitive and task-specific practice.

We hope this article helped you understand what to expect after right hemisphere brain damage and the importance of participating in rehabilitative therapies.

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