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Brain Injury Sensory Impairments and Perceptual Deficits

The senses can be affected in a variety of ways. Often, awareness of sensation, or the transmission or processing of sensation, can be impaired. The extent of the impairment varies from person to person.

Types of Impairments and Deficits

Sensory Impairment
The ability to see, smell, hear, or feel may be impaired as a result of brain injury.

Perceptual Deficit
Damage to the brain can make it difficult to interpret or process information received through the senses. This is called a perceptual deficit.

Vestibular Impairment
A vestibular impairment occurs when there is involvement to the part of the brain or inner ear that controls balance.

Vision Impairment
Vision can be impaired by direct damage to different portions of the eye or the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the eye to the brain. Vision can also be affected by paralysis or inability to coordinate the ocular muscles, which control movement of the eye. These impairments can cause double vision and difficulties in focusing at different distances.

Patients with a brain injury may be unable to see in all directions (field cuts) or ignore some areas of vision that can actually be seen (visual neglect). In some situations, visual input may be intact, but there may be problems organizing or making sense of what is seen.

Visual deficits that may occur as a result of a brain injury are:

  • Difficulty focusing on an object, which may result in double vision or blurred vision 
  • Distance Vision: Difficulty seeing object details far away
  • Field Cuts: Inability to see in all directions/entire visual field 
  • Scanning: Difficulty visually searching for and locating an object
  • Near Vision: Blurred, double vision causing difficulty with reading, table top, and activities of daily living tasks

There are many different terms used to describe our ability to process and interpret visual information. A patient may experience problems (perceptual deficits) in one or more of areas as a result of a brain injury:

  • Depth Perception: Ability to determine how far an object is from the body
  • Figure/Ground: Ability to pick out an object from its background
  • Form Constancy: Knowing an object is the same no matter what its position or size
  • Left/Right Discrimination: Ability to tell left from right
  • Object Identification: Ability to recognize objects
  • Position in Space: Ability to understand the differences between concepts such as up/down, front/back, and in/out in relation to one’s body
  • Spatial Relations: Knowing the positioning of objects in relation to each other
  • Topographical Orientation: To determine and locate objects, or the route to a specific location
  • Body Scheme: Internal awareness of the body and the relationship of body parts to each other
  • Visual Closure: Knowing what an object is even though only part of it is in view
  • Visual Neglect: Inattention to or ignoring some areas of vision (or a part of one’s body)that can actually be seen
  • Visual Memory: Ability to remember objects that have been seen

Smell Impairment
The sense of smell may be affected. The ability to smell also affects the sense of taste, particularly subtle differences among foods and can impact appetite.

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