Researchers Identify Distinct Mechanisms Underlying Reading Errors in Stroke Survivors

Study delineates three key deficits affecting reading post-stroke, paving the way for tailored interventions

written texts and styles typography
The paragraph in the top panel depicts whole-word errors (i.e., neglect
of whole words) on the left side. The bottom panel depicts within-word
errors or unilateral paralexias (i.e., where a letter is omitted or
substituted). Credit: T. Rich, J. Banks
 

East Hanover, NJ – December 12, 2023 – A new study has unveiled three distinct cognitive deficits contributing to reading difficulties in individuals with left-sided neglect dyslexia, a condition that often follows a right hemisphere stroke. These findings were reported by Timothy J. Rich, PhD, OTR/L, from Kessler Foundation and John Palmer, PhD, from the University of Washington, in their article titled, “Neglect dyslexia: Whole-word and within-word errors with parafoveal and foveal viewing,” (doi: 10.1007/s00221-023-06708-4). Published open access in Experimental Brain Research on September 29, 2023, the article details how reading accuracy can be differently affected based on the spatial position of a target word and distractor words in their visual fields, shedding light on potential ways to improve post-stroke reading difficulties caused by neglect dyslexia.

"This study is significant as it differentiates between the mechanisms of whole-word omissions and within-word letter errors, which can often be conflated in neglect dyslexia," said Dr. Rich, research scientist in the Center for Stroke Rehabilitation Research at the Foundation. "Understanding these distinctions is crucial for developing more effective rehabilitation techniques that are tailored to the specific deficits exhibited by each patient."

The study involved two separate experiments with ten stroke survivors experiencing left-sided neglect dyslexia, characterized by the omission of whole words on the left side of a page or the initial (i.e., left-sided) letters within individual words anywhere on the page. These experiments investigated the role of egocentric (viewer-centered) and allocentric (object-centered) spatial frames of reference in reading errors.

Skilled reading requires information processing of the fixated and the not-yet-fixated words to generate precise control of gaze. In eye movement research on reading, the word(s) adjacent to the fixated word are the parafoveal word(s) while the fixated word is referred to as the foveal word. In the first experiment, participants read words presented in their parafoveal vision, with and without distractor words. The second experiment repeated the task with the target words presented in their foveal vision (directly in their line of sight). The experiments aimed to discern whether reading errors stemmed from the word's position relative to the viewer or its position within a two-word frame.

Man with brown hair and beard wearing a white shirt and tie
Dr. Rich is a research scientist in the
Center for Stroke Rehabilitation at
Kessler Foundation.
 

The findings reveal a clear distinction between the types of reading errors in neglect dyslexia. Whole-word errors were influenced by the word's egocentric position, with a significant number of errors involving intrusions from the distractor word. However, this effect was eliminated when the target word was presented foveally, suggesting an egocentric spatial processing deficit. Conversely, unilateral paralexias (errors on the left-sided letters of words) remained consistent regardless of the word's spatial position or the presence of distractors, indicating an allocentric processing deficit within the word itself.

Moreover, the study identified a third deficit – a failure of selective attention – which resulted in whole-word intrusion errors. In the presence of distractors, individuals often reported the distractor word instead of the target word, a compelling demonstration of this attentional deficit.

The results suggest that while whole-word errors are subject to spatial, distractor, and attentional effects, unilateral paralexias are not, indicating that different rehabilitative approaches are necessary to address each type of error.

“Given the importance of reading ability to recovery after stroke,” Dr. Rich emphasized, “there is a pressing need for further studies to develop and refine therapeutic interventions that consider the unique cognitive profiles of those affected by neglect dyslexia.”

Data availability: https://osf.io/7czse

Funding: National Institutes of Health (EY12925); National Institutes of Health (1K01HD109446-01A1).

Learn more about the clinical tools developed for the assessment and treatment of spatial neglect at Kessler Foundation Learning Center (kflearn.org). For more information on ongoing stroke rehabilitation research at Kessler Foundation, visit Studies | Kessler Foundation.

About Kessler Foundation:
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. We help people regain independence to lead full and productive lives.

For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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