Autotopagnosia: The Inability To Locate Parts Of The Body

We explain the causes, symptoms, and effects of this perceptual disorder.

Although we usually talk about the sensory channels that help us to know our environment by referring to the “five senses”, the truth is that, in reality, there are more.

Touch, for example, is related to our ability to perceive pain and changes in temperature. But there is still another “meaning” that we tend to ignore, and whose importance is revealed in those cases in which a neurological disorder causes it to disappear. This biological alteration is known as autotopagnosia, and the capacity it suppresses is the ability to know at any moment which parts of the space are being occupied by the parts of the body.

What is autotopagnosia?

Etymologically, the term autotopagnosia already gives clues about its meaning: it is a type of agnosia, like  prosopagnosia or  visual agnosia, in which the disability has to do with the possibility of knowing in which positions the parts of the body of one are located yourself or another person or entity.

Thus, this neurological disorder, which is sometimes also called somatotopagnosia, is expressed in serious problems when it comes to knowing the orientation and placement of parts of the body, this being the product of an organic lesion in  certain parts of the brain.

Causes of autotopagnosia

Normally, autotopagnosia appears associated with lesions in the  parietal lobe of the left cerebral hemisphere. However, it is not easy to know its causes in detail.

As in almost all  neurological disorders, it is very difficult to locate an isolated cause that explains the appearance of the symptoms, because the nervous system (and especially the human nervous system) is tremendously complex, both structurally and in terms of its functioning.

In addition, cases in which autotopagnosia appears are rare, which makes its study difficult. However, possible explanations have been proposed for how this alteration appears.

There are three main hypotheses about what the causes of this disorder may be. The first of them conceives autotopagnosia as a product of a lesion in the areas of the posterior left hemisphere related to language (it could simply be a type of anomie, characterized by the impossibility of referring to elements by the name that serves to designate them); the second understands this failure as an alteration in certain parts of the parietal lobe that intervene when imagining a three-dimensional model of the body; and the third characterizes it as a visuospatial problem also related to the parietal lobe.

The possibility of analyzing in depth the causes of autotopagnosia are hampered by the fact that it often occurs in conjunction with other neurological disorders such as apraxia.

Symptoms of this neurological disorder

People with autotopagosia have serious difficulties when it comes to locating parts of their own body, another person or a drawn character. In addition, they tend to show symptoms of two types:

1. Semantic errors

These types of symptoms correspond to cases in which, when asked to point to one part of the body, they point to another that belongs to a similar semantic category. For example, when instead of pointing to an arm they point to a leg, or when instead of pointing to a knee they point to an elbow.

2. Contiguity errors

This symptom has to do with the inability of the person to know exactly where a part of the body is. For example, when asked to point to the chest, he points to the belly, or when asked to point to the ear, he points in the direction of the neck.

It is also necessary to point out that not all cases of autotopagnosia are the same, and that while some people are unable to know where the body parts of oneself or another entity are, others may have problems locating their own, or It may be that when you touch the area of ​​your own body you will realize where it is and what it is, for example.

Treatment of somatotopagnosia

As it is a neurological disorder caused by injuries, it is considered that the symptoms cannot disappear completely and that the marks left in the brain due to the injury are irreversible. However, it is possible to work by mitigating the symptoms of the disease, teaching the person to adopt habits that make everyday life easier.

Unfortunately, to date there are no known pharmacological treatments that have shown efficacy in these cases, for which it is necessary to attend each case in a specially personalized way to know all the problems that patients face and the possible opportunities to which they are exposed to when making progress in your way of acting.

Concluding

Autotopagnosia is a neurological disorder that is difficult to understand because its nature is not yet understood: it could be a language failure (that is, problems when calling things by name) or visuospatial (that is, related to no know where that part of the body is that you already know its name). 

More research is needed to develop more effective intervention programs.

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