Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand does, goes the saying. But ever wondered what happens if the command is taken literally? Yes, some people actually have to live with it and they are the ones who are afflicted by a rare neuro-psychiatric disorder called ‘Alien Hand Syndrome’. On this World Rare Disease Day, Feb 28, we seek to highlight about this disorder, which often puts the sufferer in trouble as society is not aware of this disorder.
Alien Hand Syndrome (AHS) is a condition in which one does not have control over the actions of one of the hands, as a result it might become a public nuisance or might even be self-annihilating. In this condition usually the non-dominant hand turns rogue and does not listen to commands of your brain. For example if you are a right handed person, chances are that your left hand will become an independent entity and do things that you don’t want to do. Touching inappropriately, groping in public, unbuttoning a shirt right after its’s buttoned by the normal hand or trying to strangulate oneself are all doings of the hand that turns rogue as a result of AHS.
The affected person can feel normal sensation in the hand and leg, but believes that the hand, while still being a part of their body, behaves in a manner that is totally distinct from their normal behavior. They feel that they have no control over the movements of the ‘alien’ hand, in fact the hand has the capability of acting autonomously, independent of their voluntary control. The hand effectively has ‘a will of its own.’
Neuro psychiatrists describe this as a complex, goal-directed activity in one hand that is not voluntarily initiated. Those suffering from this disorder are aware of the movement, and they feel what the hand feels, but often feel as if they have no control over it. Affected individuals often seem to refer to the rogue hand as ‘it’.
AHS is caused due to a disconnect between two parts of the brain, as a result one hand does not take commands from the brain the way it is meant to. Sometimes this is seen as an aftermath of an epileptic surgery, brain tumor or any other kind of brain surgery.
But it is an extremely rare disorder, in fact so rare that there has been no prevalence study done on it. And as of now there is no cure for AHS, but treatment options are aimed at managing the disorder. The most effective one is trying to keep the rogue hand occupied in something. Like for instance holding a walking stick so that the hand does not go wayward.
Keeping control over your hands is the biggest challenge in this disorder, wherein one has to learn to train the rogue hand to keep it under control. But like all other rare diseases, even in this, identifying the disorder first is important and then understanding the fact that it is a disorder requiring medical intervention is essential.