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Cortex. 2013 Apr;49(4):1001-12. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2012.04.008. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Does age matter? Age and rehabilitation of visual field disorders after brain injury.

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Institute of Applied Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Homonymous visual field disorders (HVFD) are frequent and disabling consequences of acquired brain injury, particularly in older age. Their rehabilitation is therefore of great importance. Compensatory oculomotor therapy has been found to be effective in improving the associated functional impairments in reading and visual exploration. But older age is commonly considered to adversely affect practice-dependent functional plasticity and, thus, functional and rehabilitation outcome after acquired brain injury. The effect of age in the compensatory treatment of HVFD, however, has never been investigated hitherto. It remains unknown whether age determines not only patients' functional impairments but also the rehabilitation outcome and the required amount of treatment. We therefore present the first study to determine the effect of age in 38 patients with HVFD receiving compensatory oculomotor treatment for their reading and visual exploration impairments. We investigated whether older patients with HVFD (1) show more pronounced impairments and less spontaneous adaptation, (2) show lesser compensatory treatment-related improvement in reading and visual exploration, and (3) require a higher amount of treatment than younger patients. Our main finding is that older patients achieve the same treatment-induced improvements in reading and visual exploration with the same amount of treatment as younger patients; severity of functional impairment also did not differ between older and younger patients, at least in reading. Age does not seem to be a critical factor determining the functional and rehabilitation outcome in the compensatory treatment of HVFD. Older age per se is not necessarily associated with a decline in practice-dependent functional plasticity and adaptation. To the contrary, the effectiveness of compensatory treatment to reduce the functional impairments to a similar extent in younger and older patients with HVFD adds to the growing evidence for a life-long potential for adaptation to the adverse effects of brain injury.

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