Temporal lobe damage can create unique side effects with perception and how someone interprets the world around them.
You’re about to learn the main functions of the temporal lobe and what happens when it’s damaged. Then you’ll learn how temporal lobe damage is treated.
Understanding Temporal Lobe Injury
The temporal lobe is located on the lower middle part of the brain, right next to your temples, above your ears.
The temporal lobe’s main responsibility revolves around processing sound. This includes:
- Perceiving sounds
- Assigning meaning to sounds
- Remembering sounds and their meanings
The temporal lobe doesn’t only process sound though. It’s also responsible for interpreting smell and even sight.
While vision is mainly controlled by the occipital lobe, the temporal lobe helps you understand what you are seeing. It’s the reason you can know that an apple is an apple and not a square.
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.
Finally, the temporal lobe controls your body’s automatic responses to stimuli, such as hunger and thirst.
Effects of Temporal Lobe Damage
As you can see, with all the functions the temporal lobe plays a part in, damage to this brain region can have a catastrophic effect on a person’s ability to respond to their environment.
The following are some of the most common effects of temporal lobe damage.
1. Difficulty Recognizing Faces (Prosopagnosia)
Damage to the temporal lobe makes it extremely difficult to interpret visual information. Someone who suffers an injury to a specific portion of their right temporal lobe might have trouble recognizing faces, as this is where facial recognition processing is believed to occur.
This condition is known as prosopagnosia. When someone has this condition, looking at your spouse or best friend can feel like looking at a stranger.
This doesn’t mean that the person has forgotten their loved one. They can usually still recognize them by their voice, they just can’t tell one person’s face apart from another.
2. Visual Agnosia
There are other types of agnosia besides prosopagnosia. The most severe form is called visual agnosia.
With visual agnosia, not only can a person not distinguish different faces, they can’t recognize or distinguish objects at all.
A person with visual agnosia may have perfectly clear vision, but not be able to tell what they are looking at.
A flower might be mistaken for a dog, or a pen for a spoon. In one extraordinary case, a man with visual agnosia mistook his wife for a hat.
This type of agnosia is rare however, and the majority of patients with temporal lobe damage do not experience such severe effects.
3. Receptive and Expressive Aphasia
The temporal lobe is responsible for interpreting and assigning meaning to various sounds.
As a result, damage to the left temporal lobe often leads to problems understanding language, also known as receptive aphasia. Those with receptive aphasia after TBI often feel like the people around them are speaking another language.
If the right side of the temporal lobe is damaged, this could lead to problems producing language (expressive aphasia).
4. Hearing Difficulties
Not only can temporal lobe damage affect the ability to interpret sounds, it can also make it harder to detect sounds at all.
This is why some people experience hearing loss after brain injury. The problem is not really in the ear itself (unless other ear damage occurred during the injury), but in the brain structures responsible for processing sound.
In addition to general hearing problems, a person with temporal lobe damage can experience something called pure word deafness.
This is where the person is deaf ONLY to spoken words. They have no problem hearing other sounds.
This condition is similar to receptive aphasia, except the person does not lose the ability to understand language – they can still speak, read and write, and can even read lips – they just can’t hear words clearly.
5. Attention Problems
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, or study while music is playing.
6. Memory Loss
The hippocampus, the structure in the brain responsible for forming emotional, long-term memories, is located in the temporal lobe.
This means that memory problems are a very common effect of temporal lobe damage. The most common memory problem after a temporal lobe injury is difficulty forming new long-term memories.
In serious cases, damage to the temporal lobe doesn’t just make it harder to form new memories, it can also erase autobiographical memories. This can cause the person to have a drastic change in self-image and may even lead to personality changes after brain injury.
7. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
Sometimes a brain injury can lead to focal seizures in the temporal lobe.
A focal seizure is just a surge of electrical activity in one part of the brain, as opposed to a generalized seizure which affects multiple areas.
Temporal lobe seizures are the most common types of focal seizures.
Because the temporal lobe is more responsible for perception than movement, temporal lobe epilepsy does not usually involve violent convulsions like other forms of epilepsy after TBI.
Instead a person experiencing a temporal lobe seizure will manifest very different symptoms, including déjà vu, unprovoked fear, visual distortions, an strange tastes and smells.
Treating Temporal Lobe Damage
Treatment for temporal lobe damage will require the same approach as other traumatic brain injury treatments: you’ll need to focus on the symptoms.
Memory and attention problems can be improved through massed practice cognitive rehabilitation exercises.
Speech therapists can help treat some forms of agnosia through naming therapy. They can also suggest different coping strategies to deal with agnosia in an effective way.
For example, if you have trouble recognizing faces, a speech therapist might teach you to identify someone by another feature, such as their voice, body language, or even their hair.
Finally, always remember that the effects of a traumatic brain injury are not always permanent.
The brain possesses a dynamic ability to heal itself and allow undamaged portions of the brain to take over control of damaged functions. And the best way to trigger this ability is through high repetition exercises.
So even if it seems impossible to regain function after a temporal lobe injury, you should not lose hope. With the right treatment plan and continued therapy, you never know what you can recover.