What Is Ideomotor Apraxia?

Scientist holding a petri dish showing a brain scan
Scientist holding a petri dish showing a brain scan. Getty Images/Rafe Swan/Cultura


Ideomotor apraxia (IMA), also known as voluntary-automatic dissociation, is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to perform movement and skilled gestures such as using a hammer or waving goodbye. Even while they are aware of the proper use of an object, patients are unable to mimic the motion of the hammer itself.

Causes of Ideomotor Apraxia

The parietal lobe controls the ability to read, write and understand spatial concepts and ideomotor apraxia is considered to be the result of the specific dysfunction of the parietal lobe, located near the back and top of the head, above the ears.

An ischemic lesion to the brain, as seen in a stroke, is the most common cause of ideomotor apraxia.

The dysfunction may be the result of the following conditions:

In some cases apraxia has been seen at birth. Symptoms appear during growth and development of the child. Causes for this type of apraxia are unknown.

Symptoms of Ideomotor Apraxia

Patients with ideomotor apraxia may exhibit symptoms that include frustration, depression and expressions of profanity. One of the overt symptoms of ideomotor apraxia is the patients' inability of pantomime the use of a tool or object.

Other symptoms may also include:

  • Inability to perform gestures or motion on verbal command
  • Inability to imitate a gesture or respond to a visually presented object
  • The mistaken use of an object for another

Diagnosis of Ideomotor Apraxia

The diagnosis of ideomotor apraxia may involve language and intelligence tests and testing for learning disabilities.

Other diagnostic tests include the following:

Treatment of Ideomotor Apraxia

While treatment of ideomotor apraxia involves physical, speech or occupational therapy, the prognosis for success varies and is partly dependent on the underlying cause of the disorder.

Types of treatment include:

  • Repeating sounds in order to teach mouth movement
  • Slowing down of speech
  • Using alternate communication techniques
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Finding alternative means of achieving goals

Complications of Ideomotor Apraxia

Patients with apraxia struggle with living independently because they may have trouble with functioning on a day-to-day basis, especially if there has been a stroke or brain injury.

Possible complications of ideomotor apraxia include:

  • Learning problems
  • Social isolation
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Frustration

Occupational therapy has helped patients regain control but does not reverse the effects of the condition.

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