Lottery Game Helps to Assess Brain Damage Following Stroke

Simple tests can be used in busy clinical environments

Milan, Italy, 28 April 2010 – Patients recovering from stroke sometimes behave as if completely unaware of one half of the world: colliding with obstacles on their left, eating food only from the right side of their plate, or failing to dress their left side. This puzzling phenomenon is termed “spatial neglect” and it affects roughly 45% of patients suffering from a stroke in the right side of the brain. The condition can indicate a long road to recovery, but researchers have now developed a quick and simple lottery game, which can be used to assess the extent of these symptoms and potentially aid the design of rehabilitation programmes. The findings are reported in the May 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex.

Dr Tobias Loetscher (University of Melbourne) and colleagues studied a group of stroke patients, using tests based on a simple lottery game in which patients first chose six lottery numbers by marking them with a pencil on a real lottery ticket. Predictably, the patients with spatial neglect tended to pick numbers located on the right-hand side of the ticket, neglecting those on the left.

However, spatial neglect does not only affect a patient’s interaction with the “real world”; it can also affect spatial imagination. In the second part of the test, patients were asked to spontaneously name six numbers without the aid of a lottery ticket. It is commonly believed that when we think of numbers we visualize them arranged along a mental number line with numbers increasing from left to right. The results of the study showed some patients picking only large numbers, indicating that they were unable to access the left side of mental images.

The information obtained from such simple bed-side tests could potentially be used to tailor effective rehabilitation procedures, which suit the individual patient. For example, patients who show signs of spatial neglect when marking numbers on the real lottery ticket, but not when picking numbers from their imagination, could be taught how to scan the missing part of their “real world”, since they may be able to envisage it in their minds.

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Notes to Editors:
The article is “Lucky numbers: Spatial neglect affects physical, but not representational, choices in a Lotto task” by Tobias Loetscher, Michael E.R. Nicholls, John N. Towse, John L. Bradshaw and Peter Brugger and appears in Cortex, Volume 46, Issue 5 (May 2010), published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, newsroom@elsevier.com. To schedule an interview, contact Dr Tobias Loetscher, tobias.loetscher@alumni.ethz.ch.

About Cortex
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: cortex@ed.ac.uk. Cortex is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452.

About Elsevier

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