Alexia is defined as a form of acquired dyslexia through trauma to the occipital lobe such as is experienced in a stroke. Understanding alexia in proximity to dyslexia, dyslexia is oftentimes used to describe a reading impairment that is discovered in a person’s development as opposed to alexia, which is when a person who previously had the ability to read then loses that ability. This is often the result of occipital ischemic stroke, an event that occurs in an area of the brain common with vision, language, and reading and writing difficulties. Common symptoms of occipital ischemic stroke include difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed – all of which are referred to as ‘alexia’. The intensity of these symptoms can range from high to low, depending on the severity of the stroke.
What is Occipital Ischemic Stroke
To begin in understanding alexia, one must begin with occipital ischemic stroke, which occurs when the occipital lobes of the brain cannot obtain enough oxygenated blood and in turn these lobes in the brain become damaged. It is this damage that leads to the aforementioned vision issues. The occipital lobe is a part of the cortex found in the back of the brain, which is where all visual information is stored. Consider it in a way like an encyclopaedia for the eyes where shapes, colors, and faces are processed according to what is already stored in the brain. This is what allows us to recognize and process visual information. An occipital ischemic stroke that damages this area can lead a person to have trouble categorizing the images in front of them. For example, seeing something such as a fork in front of them, a person who has suffered an occipital ischemic stroke may be able to describe what they see but may not be able to recognize how to use the object nor to be able to find the words to identify it by name. This is normal. The most intense of these symptoms would be full blindness wherein an eye’s function may still be in tact but it is the processing part of the brain that is impaired.
Types of Acquired Dyslexia
There are various types of acquired dyslexia including pure alexia, surface dyslexia, semantic dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, and deep dyslexia. With regards to the condition of alexia or ‘pure alexia’, this commonly denotes reading problems in a patient who has had a stroke but who simultaneously still has their language skills in tact such as auditory comprehension, writing, and oral repetition. For example, a patient may be able to write but not have the skills to be able to read or even read what they have just written. This is often because in the event of an occipital ischemic stroke, patients with alexia only have the left visual cortex damaged and not the right. Therefore the right can process visual information but is unable to send that information to the left side.
Occipital Stroke Symptoms
It is important to be able to recognize symptoms of an occipital ischemic stroke as they occur, in order to be able to diagnose and treat as appropriate. Occipital stroke symptoms vary in intensity from visual hallucinations to complete blindness. The extent of these symptoms varies depending on where the trauma occurred on the brain. For example, an occipital ischemic stroke that occurs on the entire occipital lobe on one side, a condition becomes present known as ‘homonymous hemianopia’ where a person is not able to see objects on the opposite side of the stroke. An occipital ischemic stroke that affects the occipital stroke oftentimes presents a ‘central vision defect’ where there becomes an issue seeing at the center of one’s visual field. The third range of occipital stroke symptoms occurs when the stroke affects the occipital lobes on both sides, bringing on ‘cortical blindness’. This is effectively full-on blindness brought on by an occipital ischemic stroke. Other occipital stroke symptoms might include visual illusions, visual hallucinations, visual agnosia’s, balint syndrome, prosopagnosia, and the aforementioned alexia without agraphia.
The Importance of Acting Fast with Occipital Stroke Warning Signs
If these symptoms become apparent or if you believe that you or someone else is suffering an occipital stroke, it is imperative to act fast and call 9-1-1. If this type of stroke is caught within three hours of the first symptom, there are a number of clot-busting medications that may be able to reduce the long-term cognitive disabilities that are associated with the condition. Most strokes affect only one side of the brain. It is rare but possible when both sides of the brain are affected. If both sides of the brain of affected, blindness is more than likely. Up to 25 percent of stroke victims in the United States may experience vision loss. Most of these patients will not recover their vision but some experience partial recovery or natural vision improvement over time.
Alexia and Occipital Stroke Treatment
Sufferers with alexia typically adapt to this new disability by developing compensatory reading skills. This is letter by letter reading and takes longer than the conventional style of reading, but that still allows a patient to read albeit slowly. Those who have experienced occipital ischemic stroke have their limitations but these are symptoms that one can live with. It is important to remember that the types of acquired dyslexia are not fatal prognoses and that occipital stroke treatment is possible. Improving a person’s quality of life is the primary goal of occipital stroke treatment. A person may still experience difficulties in tasks such as cooking, getting dressed, and general routines such as these. There are a number of recommendations as it pertains to occipital stroke treatment but these are typical of any stroke treatment program. Occupational therapy can oftentimes help a person compensate for their visual deficits. As the brain continues to recover from the trauma, function may return gradually over time. In addition, other parts of the brain may chip in to take over from the non-functioning parts of the brain, potentially assisting with these functions. It is largely difficult to determine what state the brain may be in after an occipital ischemic stroke as every case is unique.
Learning More about Alexia and Occipital Stroke
Living with the after-effects of occipital ischemic stroke can be a difficult process. There are a number of conditions similar to alexia that a person is at risk for and these can be difficult to navigate. Speech disorders like visual aphasia and word blindness are challenging but effective treatment at least gives a person a chance. Every person that suffers a stroke is going to face a different situation in recovery, including those with alexia and other similar conditions. Many patients retain a number of skills in arithmetic, residual semantic processing, and in various other categories. Multiple studies have been conducted on effective rehabilitation from alexia however few methods have shown to be effective. Much of these treatment plans are designed to stimulate the damaged part of the brain to allow a patient to begin working through the non-functioning processing aspects of the brain, affecting conditions such as visual aphasia, word blindness, and others.