Coffs Harbour student heads to Italy for research project

Published 4 November 2008

Imagine a world in which your brain only processes half of what you see – leaving you able to visualise only half of what’s on your dinner plate or only half the numbers on a clock.

That’s the reality for people suffering spatial neglect, a condition that can affect stroke victims and other people who have received an injury to the right hemisphere of the brain.

Southern Cross University PhD student Russell Reid, who is undertaking research through the Department of Psychology at the Coffs Harbour campus, has been invited to the University of Milan-Bicocca in Italy, to work on the development of a new tool to be used in assessing this condition.

“Up to 80 per cent of people who have had a stroke will have symptoms of spatial neglect. Most recover that function fairly quickly, but some people are afflicted permanently,” Mr Reid said.

“Men who have this ‘neglect’ will shave half their faces and women who put on make-up will only do half their face. Physcially sufferers of neglect can see what they neglect but they cannot attend to it - salient and important information is just not being processed.

“For these people they forget that space exists and at the moment there’s no real treatment.”

Mr Reid first began investigating this condition while completing an Honours research project. He created a visual simulation tool which he now hopes can be developed into an assessment tool for clinicians.

He has been invited to work with Associate Professor Roberta Daini, from the University of Milan-Bicocca, one of the leading researchers in this field.

“People who have this condition learn strategies for dealing with static objects, such as turning their dinner plate around so they see both halves. The goal of this project is to see whether their ability to move through space is still affected,” he said.

The tool utilises a computer simulation of moving stars, to create the effect of travelling through space.

Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, who has been supervising the research, said this tool was the first of its kind.

“This collaboration with the University of Milan-Bicocca will provide an opportunity to test this simulation on people suffering from this condition,” Professor van der Zwan said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Russell to work with some of the leading researchers in this field in the world.”

Mr Reid (pictured) will be leaving for Milan in mid-Janaury.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.