Impaired math achievement in patients with acute vestibular neuritis

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Abstract

Broad cognitive difficulties have been reported in patients with peripheral vestibular deficit, especially in the domain of spatial cognition. Processing and manipulating numbers relies on the ability to use the inherent spatial features of numbers. It is thus conceivable that patients with acute peripheral vestibular deficit show impaired numerical cognition. Using the number Stroop task and a short math achievement test, we tested 20 patients with acute vestibular neuritis and 20 healthy, age-matched controls. On the one hand, patients showed normal congruency and distance effects in the number Stroop task, which is indicative of normal number magnitude processing. On the other hand, patients scored lower than healthy controls in the math achievement test. We provide evidence that the lower performance cannot be explained by either differences in prior math knowledge (i.e., education) or slower processing speed. Our results suggest that peripheral vestibular deficit negatively affects numerical cognition in terms of the efficient manipulation of numbers. We discuss the role of executive functions in math performance and argue that previously reported executive deficits in patients with peripheral vestibular deficit provide a plausible explanation for the lower math achievement scores. In light of the handicapping effects of impaired numerical cognition in daily living, it is crucial to further investigate the mechanisms that cause mathematical deficits in acute PVD and eventually develop adequate means for cognitive interventions.

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