Crash Survivor Lost Ability to Read and Write

19th March 2015

A car crash survivor who lost the ability to read and write, despite sustaining only minor head injuries, was suffering from a rare cyst in the brain, psychologists have revealed.

Although initially diagnosed with whiplash, the man was later found to have a colloid cyst in his third ventricle, a cavity which drains fluid from the brain. He has since been re-taught to read and write, over a period of around six months, using visual and tactile stimuli. Dr Lynne Barker, an expert in cognitive behavioural neuroscience at Sheffield Hallam University, led the study with Dr Nick Morton, consultant neuropsychologist of the Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, and Neuroradiology at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. The team carried out a scan and found the cyst, which was blocking the patient's neural pathways to reading and writing. Dr Barker said: "It's extremely rare for someone to completely lose the ability to read and write at the same time. It's normally one or the other, or partial loss of both, and usually only follows serious brain injury. "In this case, the patient had sustained very minor injuries but there was no pathology to the brain. It seems the accident caused the cyst to grow, causing him to lose the ability to read and write very rapidly after the accident." The patient reported having memory loss following the accident, and became progressively illiterate over a period of two months, first becoming aware of it when letters on TV appeared alien, 'like foreign symbols'. It is the first time a psychological study has been carried out on a patient with a colloid cyst with no secondary brain tissue damage due to surgical evacuation of the affected. "The tissue around the cyst was completely healthy," said Dr Barker, "but the cyst was working as a roadblock for his information pathways. "It is possible that the mild head injury was a catalyst for the development of the cyst, but we have no way of confirming whether it was present before the mild head injury." The patient is now being monitored by Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, and Sheffield Royal Hallamshire Hospital, but leads a normal life.

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