Chapter 15. Language and Our Divided Brain
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The prevalence of traumatic brain injuries such as concussions among students points to a silent epidemic that demands a wake-up call from parents, coaches and other adults, Canadian neurosurgeons and psychologists say. One in five students in grades 7 to 12 said they’d had a traumatic brain injury that left them unconscious for at least five minutes or required a hospital stay overnight after symptoms, researchers said in Wednesday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers from St. Michael's Hospital and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto surveyed 8,915 students across Ontario in 2011 as part of one of the longest ongoing school surveys in the world. "It needs to be a wake-up call to say, look, young people are sustaining brain injuries at a very high rate,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital. "If we want to protect future generations, because our brain really defines how we are … not just as an individual, we need to do something collectively as a society to address this problem." Of the 464 students reporting a traumatic brain injury in the past 12 months, sports injuries accounted for more than half of the cases, 56 per cent, particularly for boys. Concussions that didn't lead to loss of consciousness or a hospital stay weren't included. © CBC 2013
Did that prairie dog just call you fat? Quite possibly. On The Current Friday, biologist Con Slobodchikoff described how he learned to understand what prairie dogs are saying to one another and discovered how eloquent they can be. Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at North Arizona University, told Erica Johnson, guest host of The Current, that he started studying prairie dog language 30 years ago after scientists reported that other ground squirrels had different alarm calls to warn each other of flying predators such as hawks and eagles, versus predators on the ground, such as coyotes or badgers. Prairie dogs, he said, were ideal animals to study because they are social animals that live in small co-operative groups within a larger colony, or "town" and they never leave their colony or territory, where they have built an elaborate underground complex of tunnels and burrows. In order to figure out what the prairie dogs were saying, Slobodchikoff and his colleagues trapped them and painted them with fur dye to identify each one. Then they recorded the animals' calls in the presence of different predators. They found that the animals make distinctive calls that can distinguish between a wide variety of animals, including coyotes, domestic dogs and humans. The patterns are so distinct, Slobodchikoff said, that human visitors that he brings to a prairie dog colony can typically learn them within two hours. But then Slobodchikoff noticed that the animals made slightly different calls when different individuals of the same species went by. © CBC 2013
By Caroline Parkinson Health editor, BBC News website Patients given a clot-busting drug within six hours of a stroke are more likely to have a good quality of life 18 months afterwards, an international study suggests. However, the review of more than 3,000 patients found the drug - alteplase - offered no improvement in survival rates. The drug is increasingly being used in specialist stroke units in the UK. The Stroke Association said the Lancet Neurology research was "encouraging". Quality of life The treatment is given to patients who have had an ischaemic stroke, when the brain's blood supply is interrupted by a clot. A stroke can cause permanent damage such as paralysis and speech problems, and can be fatal. Without treatment, a third of people who suffer a stroke die, with another third left permanently dependent and disabled. This international trial, led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, followed patients from 12 different countries - half had the alteplase treatment, which is given intravenously, and half did not. It was funded by the UK and Australian governments, the UK Stroke Association, the Medical Research Council and Health Foundation UK, with no funding from the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug. The researchers suggest that for every 1,000 patients given the drug within six hours of stroke, by 18 months, 36 more will be able to manage independently and will have less pain and discomfort than if they had not had it. However that is the average - and more of those given alteplase within the first hour or two after a stroke will see such benefits. BBC © 2013
Link ID: 18299 - Posted: 06.22.2013
by Emily Underwood Something odd happened when Shu Zhang was giving a presentation to her classmates at the Columbia Business School in New York City. Zhang, a Chinese native, spoke fluent English, yet in the middle of her talk, she glanced over at her Chinese professor and suddenly blurted out a word in Mandarin. "I meant to say a transition word like 'however,' but used the Chinese version instead," she says. "It really shocked me." Shortly afterward, Zhang teamed up with Columbia social psychologist Michael Morris and colleagues to figure out what had happened. In a new study, they show that reminders of one's homeland can hinder the ability to speak a new language. The findings could help explain why cultural immersion is the most effective way to learn a foreign tongue and why immigrants who settle within an ethnic enclave acculturate more slowly than those who surround themselves with friends from their new country. Previous studies have shown that cultural icons such as landmarks and celebrities act like "magnets of meaning," instantly activating a web of cultural associations in the mind and influencing our judgments and behavior, Morris says. In an earlier study, for example, he asked Chinese Americans to explain what was happening in a photograph of several fish, in which one fish swam slightly ahead of the others. Subjects first shown Chinese symbols, such as the Great Wall or a dragon, interpreted the fish as being chased. But individuals primed with American images of Marilyn Monroe or Superman, in contrast, tended to interpret the outlying fish as leading the others. This internally driven motivation is more typical of individualistic American values, some social psychologists say, whereas the more externally driven explanation of being pursued is more typical of Chinese culture. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Robert Bazell NBC News Just two years ago, Barbara Whitmarsh was a woman who seemed to have it all. She was a highly regarded scientist at the National Institutes of Health. Married for 30 years, she’d raised six children with her beloved husband, John. But then John Whitmarsh started to notice some disturbing changes in his wife, now 62. It was as if the woman he’d married and lived with all that time was slowly and inexorably fading away. “Her ability to feel empathy, her personality, it just disappeared over a period of time,” John said. “I would ask her, ‘Is there anything wrong?’ and she would say, ‘No, I love you and everything's fine,’ but she wasn't there. And she said it in that flat way.” A scientist himself, Whitmarsh knew there was, indeed, something wrong. And he was worried. He asked his wife to see a psychiatrist who eventually diagnosed her with frontotemporal dementia or FTD. It’s a dementia that generally strikes at an earlier age than Alzheimer’s disease. And its symptoms are different – at least in the beginning – from Alzheimer’s because it originates in a different part of the brain. It’s also a disease that until very recently doctors thought was rare -- but that view is changing. “We've begun to realize that frontotemporal dementia is actually more common than Alzheimer's disease in people with degenerative disorders under the age of 60,” said Dr. Bruce Miller, director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
Link ID: 18277 - Posted: 06.15.2013
By Nathan Seppa Soccer players who hit the ball with their head a lot don’t score as well on a memory test as players who head the ball less often, a new study finds. Frequent headers are also associated with abnormalities in the white matter of the brain, researchers report June 11 in Radiology. “These changes are subtle,” says Inga Koerte, a radiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “But you don’t need a concussive trauma to get changes in the microstructure of your brain.” While soccer players can get concussions from colliding with goal posts, the ground or each other, concussions are uncommon from heading the ball, even though it can move at 80 kilometers per hour, says coauthor Michael Lipton, a neuroradiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He and his colleagues took magnetic resonance imaging scans of 28 men and nine women who played amateur soccer. The players, with an average age of 31, tallied up their games and practice sessions in the previous year and estimated how many headers they had done in each. Most players headed the ball hundreds of times; some hit thousands of headers. The MRIs revealed brain abnormalities in some players, mainly in the white matter of three regions of the brain. White matter coats nerve fibers, and bundles of fibers cross and converge in the three regions. But the areas aren’t associated with a single function, Lipton says. Attention, memory, sensory inputs and visual and spatial functions could all be processed there. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
By Felicity Muth I recently came across an article entitled ‘Advantages in exploring a new environment with the left eye in lizards’ and I couldn’t help but read more. In this study, conducted in Italy, scientists caught 44 wall lizards and glued eye patches on to them (using a paper glue that is harmless to the lizards as they can shed and renew their skin). Half the lizards had their left eye covered, and half had their right eye covered. The lizards were then let into a maze for 20 minutes to see how they fared with turning left and right. The ones that were allowed to use just their left eye were much faster than those that could just use their right eye at turning both left and right. In addition to this, they made fewer stops, seeming to be less hesitant and indecisive than the right-eyed individuals. However, this was only the case when the lizard had to make a choice between turning left or right, not when they only had the choice to turn one way. Why might this be the case? Well, like a lot of vertebrates, lizards have lateralized brains. This means that the brain is divided in two halves, and some functions are specialized to one half. The classic example of this in humans is Broca’s area (associated with speech), which is found in the left hemisphere of the brain in 95% of us. Similar to how humans on the whole prefer to use their right hand, it seems that lizards generally prefer to use their left eye. As with humans, lizard optic nerve fibres are crossed over, meaning that control of the left eye comes from the right hemisphere of the brain and vice versa. As these lizards predominantly use their left eye, this indicates that in this species, something in the right side of their brain is specialised in attending to spatial cues. © 2013 Scientific American
// by Jennifer Viegas It goes a little something like this: A young male zebra finch, whose father taught him a song, shared that song with a brother, with the two youngsters then creating new tunes based on dad’s signature sound. The musical bird family, described in the latest Biology Letters, strengthens evidence that imitation between siblings and similar-aged youngsters facilitates vocal learning. The theory could help to explain why families with multiple same sex siblings, such as the Bee Gees and the Jackson 5, often form such successful musical groups. Co-author Sébastien Derégnaucourt told Discovery News that, among humans, “infants have a visual preference for peers of the same age, which may facilitate imitation.” He added that it’s also “known that children can have an impact on each other’s language acquisition, such as in the case of the emergence of creole languages, whether spoken or signed, among children exposed to pidgin (a grammatically simplified form of a language).” Pidgin in this case is more like pigeon, since the study focused on birds. Derégnaucourt, an associate professor at University Paris West, collaborated with Manfred Gahr of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The two researchers studied how the young male zebra finch from a bird colony in Germany learned from his avian dad. © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC.
By Tara Haelle A long overdue and growing body of research on concussions is providing today’s young athletes, parents and coaches with more information about identifying and treating head injuries—but not all of that research is reliable. For instance, one new study on youth concussions offers valuable information about recovery time, whereas potentially flawed conclusions in a second new study illustrate one of the biggest challenges in studying youth concussions—missed diagnoses. An estimated 170,000 children go to the emergency room for concussions annually, but this number does not capture the millions treated outside of hospitals by athletic trainers, family doctors or specialists. The sports with the most reported concussions are boys’ football and girls’ soccer, but bicycling, basketball and playground activities are also among the most common ways children sustain these head injuries. Symptoms can include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headache and memory or concentration problems. After a concussion is identified, the primary treatment is physical and cognitive rest, although the amount of rest needed is not always medically clear. The first study, published June 10 in Pediatrics, found that recovery takes up to two or three times longer if a child has sustained one or more concussions within the past year, further supporting reasons “to be cautious about returning young athletes to sports after a concussion,” says lead author Matthew A. Eisenberg of Boston Children’s Hospital. Eisenberg’s study notes. © 2013 Scientific American
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 18252 - Posted: 06.10.2013
By ROBERT J. ZATORRE and VALORIE N. SALIMPOOR MUSIC is not tangible. You can’t eat it, drink it or mate with it. It doesn’t protect against the rain, wind or cold. It doesn’t vanquish predators or mend broken bones. And yet humans have always prized music — or well beyond prized, loved it. In the modern age we spend great sums of money to attend concerts, download music files, play instruments and listen to our favorite artists whether we’re in a subway or salon. But even in Paleolithic times, people invested significant time and effort to create music, as the discovery of flutes carved from animal bones would suggest. So why does this thingless “thing” — at its core, a mere sequence of sounds — hold such potentially enormous intrinsic value? The quick and easy explanation is that music brings a unique pleasure to humans. Of course, that still leaves the question of why. But for that, neuroscience is starting to provide some answers. More than a decade ago, our research team used brain imaging to show that music that people described as highly emotional engaged the reward system deep in their brains — activating subcortical nuclei known to be important in reward, motivation and emotion. Subsequently we found that listening to what might be called “peak emotional moments” in music — that moment when you feel a “chill” of pleasure to a musical passage — causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential signaling molecule in the brain. When pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine. © 2013 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 18251 - Posted: 06.10.2013
by Tia Ghose, LiveScience Ape and human infants at comparable stages of development use similar gestures, such as pointing or lifting their arms to be picked up, new research suggests. Chimpanzee, bonobo and human babies rely mainly on gestures at about a year old, and gradually develop symbolic language (words, for human babies; and signs, for apes) as they get older. The findings suggest that “gesture plays an important role in the evolution of language, because it preceded language use across the species," said study co-author Kristen Gillespie-Lynch, a developmental psychologist at the College of Staten Island in New York. The idea that language arose from gesture and a primitive sign language has a long history. French philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac proposed the idea in 1746, and other scientists have noted that walking on two legs, which frees up the hands for gesturing, occurred earlier in human evolution than changes to the vocal tract that enabled speaking. But although apes in captivity can learn some language by learning from humans, in the wild, they don't gesture nearly as much as human infants, making it difficult to tease out commonalities in language development that have biological versus environmental roots. © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC
By Susan Milius Lyrebirds are famous for the mimicked sounds they sing, but they now have another claim to fame: They dance to their own songs. “Just as we waltz to waltz music but we salsa to salsa music, so lyrebirds perform different dance movements to different types of songs,” says Anastasia Dalziell of the Australian National University in Canberra. She and her colleagues scrutinized videos of male superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) showing off in the wild for possible mates. The males’ combinations of hums, clicks, trills and other sexy syllables fell into four distinctive song types, the researchers say. At least the first three types are not mimicry but lyrebird originals, Dalziell says. In courtship, males sing the songs in a fairly predictable order and usually match each to its own mix of dance moves and postures. The birds side-step, turn and flare their outsized lyre-shaped tails. Matching a type of music with a style of gesture is not unique to humankind, the researchers report June 6 in Current Biology. Performing for females, a male lyrebird dances to the music he makes. And yes, the bird makes the noises heard in the video. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
Karen Ravn Babies learn to babble before they learn to talk, at first simply repeating individual syllables (as in ba-ba-ba), and later stringing various syllables together (as in ba-da-goo). Songbirds exhibit similar patterns during song-learning, and the capacity for this sort of syllable sequencing is widely believed to be innate and to emerge full-blown — a theory that is challenged by a paper published on Nature's website today1. A study of three species — zebra finches, Bengalese finches and humans — reports that none of the trio has it that easy. Their young all have to learn how to string syllables together slowly, pair by pair. “We discovered a previously unsuspected stage in human vocal development,” says first author Dina Lipkind, a psychologist now at Hunter College in New York. The researchers began by training young zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) to sing a song in which three syllables represented by the letters A, B and C came in the order ABC–ABC. They then trained the birds to sing a second song in which the same syllables were strung together in a different order, ACB–ACB. Eight out of seventeen birds managed to learn the second song, but they did not do so in one fell swoop. They learned it as a series of syllable pairs, first, say, learning to go from A to C, then from C to B and finally from B to A. And they didn’t do it overnight, as the innate-sequencing theory predicts. Instead, on average, they learned the first pair in about ten days, the second in four days and the third in two days. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group
by Emily Underwood Without a way to forecast whether the early warning signs of autism will develop into severe impairment, parents of children with the disorder are left with one harrowing option: Wait and see. Now, a new study suggests that a distinct ripple of brain waves measured while toddlers listen to words can reliably predict how they will fare in a range of cognitive areas up to age 6—the longest-term forecast yet achieved. In addition to pointing toward more effective treatments, the discovery could help reveal how early social abilities facilitate the development of language. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have begun to display telltale social and language deficits by the time they're toddlers; they fail to play or make eye contact with others, for example, or to say short sentences such as "drink milk." Although scientists have long considered the brain systems that govern these two types of deficits as separate, a growing body of evidence suggests that they are actually deeply intertwined, says Patricia Kuhl, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Washington, Seattle, and lead author of the new study. One of Kuhl's first important clues that social deficits might hinder language acquisition in autism came from her 2005 study of "Motherese"—the exaggerated, sing-song baby talk that parents instinctively shower on their children. When given the choice between listening to samples of Motherese or computer-generated tones, Kuhl found that preschoolers with autism "actually preferred the Robovoice," she says. This lack of interest in human speech not only correlated with the severity of a child's autistic symptoms, Kuhl notes, but with a lack of typical brain response to subtle changes in syllables, such as the switch from "ba" to "da." That's bad news, she says, because "picking up these tiny changes means the difference between learning language or not." © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science
by John Bohannon WASHINGTON, D.C.—People may grow wiser with age, but they don't grow smarter. Many of our mental abilities decline after midlife, and now researchers say that they've fingered a culprit. A study presented here last week at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science points to microbleeding in the brain caused by stiffening arteries. The finding may lead to new therapies to combat senior moments. This isn't the first time that microbleeds have been suspected as a cause of cognitive decline. "We have known [about them] for some time thanks to neuroimaging studies," says Matthew Pase, a psychology Ph.D. student at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. The brains of older people are sometimes peppered with dark splotches where blood vessels have burst and created tiny dead zones of tissue. How important these microbleeds are to cognitive decline, and what causes them, have remained open questions, however. Pase wondered if high blood pressure might be behind the microbleeds. The brain is a very blood-hungry organ, he notes. "It accounts for only 2% of the body weight yet receives 15% of the cardiac output and consumes 20% of the body's oxygen expenditure." Rather than getting the oxygen in pulses, the brain needs a smooth, continuous supply. So the aorta, the largest blood vessel branching off the heart, smooths out blood pressure before it reaches the brain by absorbing the pressure with its flexible walls. But as people age, the aorta stiffens. That translates to higher pressure on the brain, especially during stress. The pulse of blood can be strong enough to burst vessels in the brain, resulting in microbleeds. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Bruce Bower Chaser isn’t just a 9-year-old border collie with her breed’s boundless energy, intense focus and love of herding virtually anything. She’s a grammar hound. In experiments directed by her owner, psychologist John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., Chaser demonstrated her grasp of the basic elements of grammar by responding correctly to commands such as “to ball take Frisbee” and its reverse, “to Frisbee take ball.” The dog had previous, extensive training to recognize classes of words including nouns, verbs and prepositions. “Chaser intuitively discovered how to comprehend sentences based on lots of background learning about different types of words,” Pilley says. He reports the results May 13 in Learning and Motivation. Throughout the first three years of Chaser’s life, Pilley and a colleague trained the dog to recognize and fetch more than 1,000 objects by name. Using praise and play as reinforcements, the researchers also taught Chaser the meaning of different types of words, such as verbs and prepositions. As a result, Chaser learned that phrases such as “to Frisbee” meant that she should take whatever was in her mouth to the named object. Exactly how the dog gained her command of grammar is unclear, however. Pilley suspects that Chaser first mentally linked each of two nouns she heard in a sentence to objects in her memory. Then the canine held that information in mind while deciding which of two objects to bring to which of two other objects. Pilley’s work follows controversial studies of grammar understanding in dolphins and a pygmy chimp. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
By ANDREW C. REVKIN Twenty-two months ago, I interrupted my nonstop reporting about paths toward a sustainable future for our species to focus on sustaining myself. The hiatus was not by choice, but was mandated by a stroke — the out-of-the-blue variant, the rare kind of “brain attack” (the term preferred by some neurologists) that is most often seen in otherwise healthy, youngish middle-aged people. It’s Fourth of July weekend, 2011 — a beautiful, if hot, morning for a run in the Hudson Valley woods with my son Daniel, back from brief service in the Israeli army. I’m eager to be pushed hard. I’m not even a lapsed middle-aged athlete; I’m truly negligent when it comes to exercise. We’re jogging up a steep path, and my breathing gets deeper and faster. At a particularly tough turn, I pause, hands on knees. “Come on, keep it up, Dad.” I’m panting but don’t want to disappoint. We press on. But I stop again, this time insisting that Daniel run ahead. I rest in the mottled shade and sunlight of the woods until he returns. Then I realize that through my left eye, the world appears paisley — as if I were looking through a patterned curtain. Something is really wrong. We make it back to the car. Daniel takes the wheel. Back home, I take a shower, thinking that cooling off will help. For the first time, a thought flickers. Could this be a stroke? Almost unconsciously, I take half a dozen baby aspirin. I know enough about aspirin’s blood-thinning properties to think this can’t hurt. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 18147 - Posted: 05.14.2013
by Helen Thomson "I was sitting on the toilet. I suddenly felt an explosion in the left side of my head and ended up on the floor. I think the only thing that kept me conscious was that I didn't want to be found with my pants down. Then the other side of my head went bang! I woke up in hospital and looked out of the window to see the tree was sprouting numbers. 3, 6, 9. Then I started talking in rhyme…" Ten days after having a subarachnoid haemorrhage – a stroke caused by bleeding in and around the brain – Tommy McHugh, an ex-con who'd been in his fair share of scraps, became a new man, with a personality that nobody recognised. When he was a young man, Tommy did time in prison. But after his stroke at age 51, everything changed. "I could taste the femininity inside of myself," he said. "My head was full of rhymes and images and pictures." Not only did he feel a sudden urge to write poetry, but he also began to paint and draw obsessively for up to 19 hours a day. He was never artistic before – in fact, he joked that he'd never even been in an art gallery "except to maybe steal something". Desperate to find out what was going on, Tommy wrote to several neuroscientists and end up working closely with Alice Flaherty at Harvard Medical School and Mark Lythgoe at University College London. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
by Elizabeth Norton If you've ever cringed when your parents said "groovy," you'll know that spoken language can have a brief shelf life. But frequently used words can persist for generations, even millennia, and similar sounds and meanings often turn up in very different languages. The existence of these shared words, or cognates, has led some linguists to suggest that seemingly unrelated language families can be traced back to a common ancestor. Now, a new statistical approach suggests that peoples from Alaska to Europe may share a linguistic forebear dating as far back as the end of the Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago. "Historical linguists study language evolution using cognates the way biologists use genes," explains Mark Pagel, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. For example, although about 50% of French and English words derive from a common ancestor (like "mere" and "mother," for example), with English and German the rate is closer to 70%—indicating that while all three languages are related, English and German have a more recent common ancestor. In the same vein, while humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas have common genes, the fact that humans share almost 99% of their DNA with chimps suggests that these two primate lineages split apart more recently. Because words don't have DNA, researchers use cognates found in different languages today to reconstruct the ancestral "protowords." Historical linguists have observed that over time, the sounds of words tend to change in regular patterns. For example, the p sound frequently changes to f, and the t sound to th—suggesting that the Latin word pater is, well, the father of the English word father. Linguists use these known rules to work backward in time, making a best guess at how the protoword sounded. They also track the rate at which words change. Using these phylogenetic principles, some researchers have dated many common words as far back as 9000 years ago. The ancestral language known as Proto-Indo-European, for example, gave rise to languages including Hindi, Russian, French, English, and Gaelic. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By BILL PENNINGTON BOSTON — The drumbeat of alarming stories linking concussions among football players and other athletes to brain disease has led to a new and mushrooming American phenomenon: the specialized youth sports concussion clinic, which one day may be as common as a mall at the edge of town. In the last three years, dozens of youth concussion clinics have opened in nearly 35 states — outpatient centers often connected to large hospitals that are now filled with young athletes complaining of headaches, amnesia, dizziness or problems concentrating. The proliferation of clinics, however, comes at a time when there is still no agreed-upon, established formula for treating the injuries. “It is inexact, a science in its infancy,” said Dr. Michael O’Brien of the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We know much more than we once did, but there are lots of layers we still need to figure out.” Deep concern among parents about the effects of concussions is colliding with the imprecise understanding of the injury. To families whose anxiety has been stoked by reports of former N.F.L. players with degenerative brain disease, the new facilities are seen as the most expert care available. That has parents parading to the clinic waiting rooms. The trend is playing out vividly in Boston, where the phone hardly stops ringing at the youth sports concussion clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Parents call saying, ‘I saw a scary report about concussions on Oprah or on the ‘Doctors’ show or Katie Couric’s show,’ ” Dr. Barbara Semakula said, describing a typical day at the clinic. “Their child just hurt his head, and they’ve already leapt to the worst possible scenarios. It’s a little bit of a frenzy out there.” © 2013 The New York Times Company