Chapter 19. Language and Lateralization

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By Lisa Sanders, M.D. “You need to call an ambulance,” the familiar voice from her doctor’s office urged the frightened 59-year-old woman. “Or should I do it for you?” No, she replied shakily. I can do it. The woman looked down at the phone in her hand; there were two of them. She closed one eye and the second phone disappeared. Then she dialed 911. It had been a hellish few days. Five days earlier, she noticed that she was having trouble walking. Her legs couldn’t or wouldn’t follow her brain’s instructions. She had to take these ungainly baby steps to get anywhere. Her muscles felt weak; her feet were inert blocks. Her hands shook uncontrollably. She vomited half a dozen times a day. The week before, she decided to stop drinking, and she recognized the shaking and vomiting as part of that process. The trouble walking, that was new. But that’s not why she called her doctor. The previous day, she was driving home and was just a block away when suddenly there were two of everything. Stone-cold sober and seeing double. There were two dotted lines identifying the middle of her quiet neighborhood street in South Portland, Maine. Two sets of curbs in front of two sets of sidewalks. She stopped the car, rubbed her eyes and discovered that the second objects slid back into the first when one eye stayed covered. She drove home with her face crinkled in an awkward wink. At home, she immediately called her doctor’s office. They wanted to send an ambulance right then. But she didn’t have health insurance. She couldn’t afford either the ambulance or the hospital. She would probably be better by the next day, she told the young woman on the phone. But the next day was the same. And when she called the doctor’s office this time, the medical assistant’s suggestion that she call an ambulance made a lot more sense. The woman was embarrassed by the siren and flashing lights. Her neighbors would be worried. But she couldn’t deny the relief she felt as she watched the ambulance pull up. The E.M.T.s helped her to her feet and onto the stretcher, then drove her to nearby Northern Light Mercy Hospital. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language
Link ID: 27607 - Posted: 12.05.2020

Amber Dance Gerald Maguire has stuttered since childhood, but you might not guess it from talking to him. For the past 25 years, he has been treating his disorder with antipsychotic medications not officially approved for the condition. Only with careful attention might you discern his occasional stumble on multisyllabic words like "statistically" and "pharmaceutical." Maguire has plenty of company: More than 70 million people worldwide, including about 3 million Americans, stutter — they have difficulty with the starting and timing of speech, resulting in halting and repetition. That number includes approximately 5 percent of children (many of whom outgrow the condition) and 1 percent of adults. Their numbers include presidential candidate Joe Biden, deep-voiced actor James Earl Jones, and actress Emily Blunt. Though they and many others, including Maguire, have achieved career success, stuttering can contribute to social anxiety and draw ridicule or discrimination. Maguire, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Riverside, has been treating people who stutter, and researching potential treatments, for decades. He's now embarking on a clinical trial of a new medication, ecopipam, that streamlined speech and improved quality of life in a small pilot study in 2019. Others, meanwhile, are delving into the root causes of stuttering. In past decades, therapists mistakenly attributed stuttering to defects of the tongue and voice box, to anxiety, trauma, or even poor parenting — and some still do. Yet others have long suspected that neurological problems might underlie stuttering, says J. Scott Yaruss, a speech-language pathologist at Michigan State University. The first data to back up that hunch came in 1991, when researchers reported altered blood flow in the brains of people who stuttered. Since then research has made it more apparent that stuttering is all in the brain. "We are in the middle of an absolute explosion of knowledge being developed about stuttering," Yaruss says. ® 2020 The Week Publications Inc.

Keyword: Language
Link ID: 27565 - Posted: 11.04.2020

By Jeremy Hsu Artificial intelligence could soon help screen for Alzheimer’s disease by analyzing writing. A team from IBM and Pfizer says it has trained AI models to spot early signs of the notoriously stealthy illness by looking at linguistic patterns in word usage. Other researchers have already trained various models to look for signs of cognitive impairments, including Alzheimer’s, by using different types of data, such as brain scans and clinical test results. But the latest work stands out because it used historical information from the multigenerational Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health of more than 14,000 people from three generations since 1948. If the new models’ ability to pick up trends in such data holds up in forward-looking studies of bigger and more diverse populations, researchers say they could predict the development of Alzheimer’s a number of years before symptoms become severe enough for typical diagnostic methods to pick up. And such a screening tool would not require invasive tests or scans. The results of the Pfizer-funded and IBM-run study were published on Thursday in EClinicalMedicine. The new AI models provide “an augmentation to expert practitioners in how you would see some subtle changes earlier in time, before the clinical diagnosis has been achieved,” says Ajay Royyuru, vice president of health care and life sciences research at IBM. “It might actually alert you to some changes that [indicate] you ought to then go do a more complete exam.” To train these models, the researchers used digital transcriptions of handwritten responses from Framingham Heart Study participants who were asked to describe a picture of a woman who is apparently preoccupied with washing dishes while two kids raid a cookie jar behind her back. These descriptions did not preserve the handwriting from the original responses, says Rhoda Au, director of neuropsychology at the Framingham study and a professor at Boston University. © 2020 Scientific American,

Keyword: Alzheimers; Language
Link ID: 27544 - Posted: 10.24.2020

By Elizabeth Svoboda After a 3-year-old named Matthew started having one seizure after another, his worried parents learned he had a chronic brain condition that was causing the convulsions. They faced an impossible decision: allow the damaging seizures to continue indefinitely, or allow surgeons to remove half of their son’s brain. They chose the latter. When Matthew emerged from surgery, he couldn’t walk or speak. But bit by bit, he remastered speech and recaptured his lost milestones. The moment one side of his brain was removed, the remainder set itself to the colossal task of re-forging lost neural connections. This gut-level renovation was so successful that no one who meets Matthew today would guess that half his brain is gone. Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman is obsessed with probing the outer limits of this kind of neural transformation — and harnessing it to useful ends. We’ve all heard that our brains are more plastic than we think, that they can adapt ingeniously to changed conditions, but in “Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain,” Eagleman tackles this topic with fresh élan and rigor. He shows not just how we can direct our own neural remodeling on a cellular level, but how such remodeling — a process he calls “livewiring” — alters the core of who we are. “Our machinery isn’t fully preprogrammed, but instead shapes itself by interacting with the world,” Eagleman writes. “You are a different person than you were at this time last year, because the gargantuan tapestry of your brain has woven itself into something new.”

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Language
Link ID: 27515 - Posted: 10.10.2020

By Bill Hathaway Our brains respond differently when talking to a person from a different socioeconomic group than during a conversation with someone of a similar background, a novel new imaging study shows. While neuroscientists have used brain imaging scans to track in great detail neural responses of individuals to a host of factors such as stress, fear, addiction, and even love and lust, new research shows what happens in the brains of two individuals engaged in a simple social interaction. The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reveals the distinct neurobiology of a conversation between two people of different backgrounds. “When a Yale professor talks to a homeless person, his or her frontal lobe activates a different neural network than if they were chatting with another colleague,” said senior author Joy Hirsch, the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry and professor of comparative medicine and of neuroscience. “Our brain has apparently designed a frontal lobe system that helps us deal with our diversity.” Hirsch has a joint appointment in neuroscience at the University College of London. The study is the brainchild of recent Yale graduate Olivia Descorbeth, who first proposed the research idea as a high school student. Hirsch and Descorbeth wanted to know if a person’s brain responds differently when speaking with individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Copyright © 2020 Yale University

Keyword: Emotions; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27511 - Posted: 10.07.2020

By Jake Buehler During the summer feeding season in high latitudes, male blue whales tend to sing at night. But shortly before migrating south to their breeding grounds, the whales switch up the timing and sing during the day, new research suggests. This is not the first time that scientists have observed whales singing at a particular time of day. But the finding appears to be the first instance of changes in these daily singing patterns throughout the yearly feeding and mating cycle, says William Oestreich, a biological oceanographer at Stanford University. In the North Pacific, blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) spend summers off North America’s coast gorging on krill before traveling to the tropics to breed in winter. Data collected by an underwater microphone dropped into Monterey Bay in California to record the region’s soundscape for five years allowed Oestreich and his colleagues to eavesdrop on whales that visited the bay. When the team separated daytime and nighttime whale songs, it stumbled upon a surprising pattern: In the summer and early fall, most songs occurred at night, but as winter breeding season approached, singing switched mostly to the daytime. “This was a very striking signal to observe in such an enormous dataset,” says Oestreich. The instrument has been collecting audio since July 2015, relaying nearly 2 terabytes of data back to shore every month. The researchers also tagged 15 blue whales with instruments and from 2017 to 2019, recorded the whales’ movements, diving and feeding behavior, as well as their singing — nearly 4,000 songs’ worth. Whales that were feeding and hadn’t yet started migrating to the breeding grounds sang primarily at night — crooning about 10 songs per hour on average at night compared with three songs per hour in the day, or roughly three times as often. But those that had begun their southward trip sang mostly in the day, with the day-night proportions roughly reversed, the team reports October 1 in Current Biology. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Animal Migration
Link ID: 27504 - Posted: 10.03.2020

By Apoorva Mandavilli The coronavirus targets the lungs foremost, but also the kidneys, liver and blood vessels. Still, about half of patients report neurological symptoms, including headaches, confusion and delirium, suggesting the virus may also attack the brain. A new study offers the first clear evidence that, in some people, the coronavirus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself. The virus also seems to suck up all of the oxygen nearby, starving neighboring cells to death. It’s unclear how the virus gets to the brain or how often it sets off this trail of destruction. Infection of the brain is likely to be rare, but some people may be susceptible because of their genetic backgrounds, a high viral load or other reasons. “If the brain does become infected, it could have a lethal consequence,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work. The study was posted online on Wednesday and has not yet been vetted by experts for publication. But several researchers said it was careful and elegant, showing in multiple ways that the virus can infect brain cells. Scientists have had to rely on brain imaging and patient symptoms to infer effects on the brain, but “we hadn’t really seen much evidence that the virus can infect the brain, even though we knew it was a potential possibility,” said Dr. Michael Zandi, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Britain. “This data just provides a little bit more evidence that it certainly can.” Dr. Zandi and his colleagues published research in July showing that some patients with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, develop serious neurological complications, including nerve damage. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Stroke
Link ID: 27469 - Posted: 09.12.2020

Researchers say mother bats use baby talk to communicate with their pups. Experts say that it helps bats learn the language. MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST: You know how scientists are always curious? Well, one scientist started wondering if bats do something that humans do. AHANA AURORA FERNANDEZ: When we humans talk to a baby, we automatically change our voices. Hello, my baby. You are so cute. My voice goes up. SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST: That's Ahana Aurora Fernandez. She's in Berlin but did her bat study in Panama. And she found that, as many humans do, mommy bats talk to baby bats in a similar way. There's a word for this way of talking. It's motherese (ph). Experts say that in humans - and, apparently, also in bats - it helps with language learning. KELLY: Ahana Fernandez sent us recordings she made to illustrate her findings. They are slowed down so we can better hear the differences between adult bats talking to each other and the motherese used on bat pups. First, here's two adult bats talking to each other. KELLY: OK, and now here's a mother bat with her pup. PFEIFFER: It took patience for Ahana Hernandez to record bat conversation. She sat in the jungle in a chair for hour after hour, waiting for bat conversations to happen. She even brought along books to pass the time. Scientific research is not always riveting. KELLY: No. All told, Ahana Fernandez and her colleagues conducted their research for these last five years, and they found something else along the way. Baby bats babble. FERNANDEZ: They use sort of a vocal practice behavior which is reminiscent of babbling in infants. KELLY: Bat baby talk. PFEIFFER: Her team's report was published this month, and it shows that in the first three months of life, these bat pups experiment with their speech. FERNANDEZ: They learn a part of their adult vocal repertoire through vocal imitation as we humans do. © 2020 npr

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 27444 - Posted: 09.02.2020

A collaborative study conducted by scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense (DOD), and multiple academic institutions has identified blood biomarkers that could help to predict which athletes need additional time to recover from a sports related concussion. This collaboration, known as the Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) consortium, is supported, in part, by DOD and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In this study, conducted at several sites across the U.S., 127 male and female collegiate athletes who had sustained a sports-related concussion were tested at several time points: shortly after injury, when their symptoms resolved, and one week after returning to play. Each athlete had also undergone preseason, baseline testing. Using an ultrasensitive assay that can detect minute amounts of protein, the researchers tested blood serum from these athletes and identified two blood proteins that were associated with the length of time needed by the athletes to return to play. Amounts of these two proteins, tau protein and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) were found to be significantly different in athletes who needed less or more than 14 days to return. While further research is needed, the results of this study are an important step towards the development of a test that could help predict which athletes need more time to recover from a concussion and resume activity. This study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 27438 - Posted: 08.29.2020

By Benedict Carey For a couple of minutes on Thursday, the sprawling, virtual Democratic National Convention seemed to hold its collective breath as 13-year-old Brayden Harrington of Concord, N.H., addressed the nation from his bedroom, occasionally stumbling on his words. “I’m a regular kid,” he said into a home camera, and a recent meeting with the candidate “made me feel confident about something that has bothered me my whole life.” Joe Biden and Mr. Harrington have had to manage stuttering, and the sight of the teenager openly balking on several words, including “stutter,” was a striking reminder of how the speech disorder can play havoc with sociability, relationships, even identity. Movies like “The King’s Speech,” and books like Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral,” explore how consequential managing the disorder can be, just as Mr. Biden’s own story does. How many people stutter? The basic numbers are known: About one in 10 children will exhibit some evidence of a stutter — it usually starts between ages 2 and 7 — and 90 percent of them will grow out of it before adulthood. Around 1 percent of the population carries the speech problem for much of their lives. For reasons not understood, boys are twice as likely to stutter, and nearly four times as likely to continue doing so into adulthood. And it is often anxiety that triggers bursts of verbal stumbling — which, in turn, create a flood of self-conscious stress. When Mr. Harrington got stuck for a couple of seconds on the “s” in “stutter,” he turned his head and his eyes fluttered — an embodiment of physical and mental effort — before saying, “It is really amazing that someone like me could get advice from” a presidential candidate. About half of children who stutter are related to someone else who does, but it is impossible to predict who will develop the speech disorder. There are no genes for stuttering; and scientists do not know what might happen after conception, during development, that predisposes children to struggle with speaking in this way. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Attention
Link ID: 27431 - Posted: 08.22.2020

By Laura Sanders When your brain stops working — completely and irreversibly — you’re dead. But drawing the line between life and brain death isn’t always easy. A new report attempts to clarify that distinction, perhaps helping to ease the anguish of family members with a loved one whose brain has died but whose heart still beats. Brain death has been a recognized concept in medicine for decades. But there’s a lot of variation in how people define it, says Gene Sung, a neurocritical care physician at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Showing that there is some worldwide consensus, understanding and agreement at this time will hopefully help minimize misunderstanding of what brain death is,” Sung says. As part of the World Brain Death Project, Sung and his colleagues convened doctors from professional societies around the world to forge a consensus on how to identify brain death. This group, including experts in critical care, neurology and neurosurgery, reviewed the existing research on brain death (which was slim) and used their clinical expertise to write the recommendations, published August 3 in JAMA. In addition to the main guidelines, the final product included 17 supplements that address legal and religious aspects, provide checklists and flowcharts, and even trace the history of relevant medical advances. “Basically, we wrote a book,” Sung says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27413 - Posted: 08.11.2020

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie My daughter and I were playing tag, or a kind of tag. Before that, we traced the letter P and we danced to James Brown’s “I feel good,” a song she selected from the iPod. We laughed as we danced, she with a natural rhythm striking for a 4-year-old, and I with my irretrievable gracelessness. Next on our plan was “Sesame Street.” It was about 2 p.m. on May 28. A day complacent with the promise of no surprises, like all the other days of the lockdown, shrunken days with shriveled routines. “When coronavirus is over,” my daughter often said, words filled with yearning for her preschool, her friends, her swimming lessons. And I, amid snatches of joy and discovery, often felt bored, and then guilty for feeling boredom, in this expanded boundless role of parent-playmate. My daughter picked up a green balloon pump, squirted the air at me, and ran off, around the kitchen counter. When I caught her, squealing, it was her turn to chase me. I was wearing white slippers, from some hotel somewhere, back when international travel was normal. They felt soft and thin-soled. I recall all these clearly, because of all the things I will be unable to recall later. I turned away from the kitchen to make the chase longer and something happened. I slipped or I tripped or my destiny thinned and I fell and hit my head on the hardwood floor. At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, plagued by amorphous anxieties, I taught my daughter how to call my doctor husband at work. Just in case. My daughter says that after I fell I told her, “Call Papa.” My husband says I spoke coherently. I told him that I fell and that the pain in my head was “excruciating,” and when I said “excruciating,” I seemed to wince. He says he asked my daughter to get me the ice pack in the freezer and that I said, “Thank you, baby,” when she gave it to me. I do not remember any of this.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 27412 - Posted: 08.11.2020

By Jennifer Couzin-Frankel Athena Akrami’s neuroscience lab reopened last month without her. Life for the 38-year-old is a pale shadow of what it was before 17 March, the day she first experienced symptoms of the novel coronavirus. At University College London (UCL), Akrami’s students probe how the brain organizes memories to support learning, but at home, she struggles to think clearly and battles joint and muscle pain. “I used to go to the gym three times a week,” Akrami says. Now, “My physical activity is bed to couch, maybe couch to kitchen.” Her early symptoms were textbook for COVID-19: a fever and cough, followed by shortness of breath, chest pain, and extreme fatigue. For weeks, she struggled to heal at home. But rather than ebb with time, Akrami’s symptoms waxed and waned without ever going away. She’s had just 3 weeks since March when her body temperature was normal. “Everybody talks about a binary situation, you either get it mild and recover quickly, or you get really sick and wind up in the ICU,” says Akrami, who falls into neither category. Thousands echo her story in online COVID-19 support groups. Outpatient clinics for survivors are springing up, and some are already overburdened. Akrami has been waiting more than 4 weeks to be seen at one of them, despite a referral from her general practitioner. The list of lingering maladies from COVID-19 is longer and more varied than most doctors could have imagined. Ongoing problems include fatigue, a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, achy joints, foggy thinking, a persistent loss of sense of smell, and damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Stroke; Stress
Link ID: 27399 - Posted: 08.03.2020

By Joshua Sokol A beast calls in the distance. Hearing a low rumble, you might imagine the source will be an unholy cross between a wild boar and a chain saw. The message is unmistakable: I’m here, I’m huge and you can either come mate with me or stay out of my way. Surprise! It’s just a cuddly little koala. Like online dating, the soundscape of the animal world is rife with exaggerations about size, which animals use to scare off rivals and attract mates. Gazelles, howler monkeys, bats and many more creatures have evolved to create calls with deep sonic frequencies that sound as if they come from a much larger animal. Now scientists have proposed this same underlying pressure to exaggerate size might be linked to an even deeper mystery. It could have spurred mammals toward developing the ability to make a wider array of possible calls, to mimic sounds after hearing them and maybe even speech, what scientists call vocal learning. “We are offering one possible way for vocal learning to have evolved,” says Maxime Garcia, a biologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who suggested the relationship with his colleague, Andrea Ravignani, in the journal Biology Letters this month. Their idea builds off previous studies on vocal learning in humans. Beyond just opera singers, beatboxers and Michael Winslow from the “Police Academy” movies, we all have some level of control over the frequencies of our voices. “I can tell you to lower your pitch or try to sound big, and you can soound like thissss,” said Katarzyna Pisanski at the University of Lyon in France, affecting a deep voice. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27393 - Posted: 07.31.2020

Masakazu (Mark) Konishi, the Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology, Emeritus, passed away on July 23. He was 87 years old. Renowned for his work on the neuroscience underlying the behavior of owls and songbirds, Konishi joined the Caltech faculty as a professor of biology in 1975, becoming the Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology in 1980. Since the early 1960s, Konishi was a leader in the field of avian neuroethology—the neurobiological study of natural behavior, such as prey capture by owls and singing in songbirds. In his laboratory at Caltech, Konishi advised dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. His team worked extensively on the auditory systems of barn owls, which use their acute hearing to home in on prey on the ground, even in total darkness. Konishi was the first to theorize that young birds initially remember a tutor song and use the memory as a template to guide the development of their own song. Konishi was born in Kyoto, Japan, on February 17, 1933. He attended Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, for his bachelor and master of science degrees, after which he attended the UC Berkeley for his PhD. Under Berkeley professor Peter Marler, Konishi focused his doctoral research on the idea of central coordination. Konishi began a full professorship at Caltech in 1975. He was the Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology until his retirement in 2013. From 1977 to 1980, Konishi served as the division's executive officer for biology.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 27383 - Posted: 07.27.2020

Ian Sample Science editor Doctors may be missing signs of serious and potentially fatal brain disorders triggered by coronavirus, as they emerge in mildly affected or recovering patients, scientists have warned. Neurologists are on Wednesday publishing details of more than 40 UK Covid-19 patients whose complications ranged from brain inflammation and delirium to nerve damage and stroke. In some cases, the neurological problem was the patient’s first and main symptom. The cases, published in the journal Brain, revealed a rise in a life-threatening condition called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (Adem), as the first wave of infections swept through Britain. At UCL’s Institute of Neurology, Adem cases rose from one a month before the pandemic to two or three per week in April and May. One woman, who was 59, died of the complication. A dozen patients had inflammation of the central nervous system, 10 had brain disease with delirium or psychosis, eight had strokes and a further eight had peripheral nerve problems, mostly diagnosed as Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune reaction that attacks the nerves and causes paralysis. It is fatal in 5% of cases. “We’re seeing things in the way Covid-19 affects the brain that we haven’t seen before with other viruses,” said Michael Zandi, a senior author on the study and a consultant at the institute and University College London Hospitals NHS foundation trust. “What we’ve seen with some of these Adem patients, and in other patients, is you can have severe neurology, you can be quite sick, but actually have trivial lung disease,” he added. “Biologically, Adem has some similarities with multiple sclerosis, but it is more severe and usually happens as a one-off. Some patients are left with long-term disability, others can make a good recovery.” © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Stroke; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 27354 - Posted: 07.08.2020

By Linda Searing Every 40 seconds, on average, someone in the United States has a stroke — amounting to 795,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most strokes, 80 percent or more, occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot. Known as an ischemic stroke, it results in brain cells not getting needed oxygen and nutrients, which causes the cells to start dying within minutes. The other main type of stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts, with the flood of blood putting pressure on and damaging the brain cells. This type of stroke may be caused by high blood pressure (which over time can weaken blood vessel walls) or an aneurysm (a bulge in a blood vessel that bursts). Both types of stroke can cause lasting brain damage, disability or death, and some 140,000 Americans die each year from a stroke. The likelihood of brain damage and disability increases the longer a stroke goes untreated, making it critical to call 911 and get emergency stroke treatment started as soon as possible. Signs of a stroke usually come on suddenly and may include numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, trouble speaking, blurred or double vision, dizziness or stumbling when trying to walk or a very severe headache. A condition similar to a stroke, known as a transient ischemic attack, occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked for a short time (hence its nickname, “mini-stroke”). Though damage to the brain from a TIA is not permanent, it does make the chances of a full-blown stroke more likely. Because of this, the American Stroke Association refers to a TIA as a “warning stroke.” © 1996-2020 The Washington Post

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 27347 - Posted: 07.08.2020

By Cara Giaimo Even if you’re not a bird person, you probably know the jaunty song of the white-throated sparrow. It plays on loop in North America’s boreal forests, a classic as familiar as the chickadee’s trill and the mourning dove’s dirge. It even has its own mnemonic, “Old Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody.” But over the past half-century, the song’s hook — its triplet ending — has changed, replaced by a new, doublet-ended variant, according to a paper published Thursday in Current Biology. It seems the sparrows want to sing something new. The study, which took 20 years, is “the first to track the cultural evolution of birdsong at the continental scale,” said Mason Youngblood, a doctoral candidate in animal behavior at the CUNY Graduate Center who was not involved in the research. It describes a much broader and more rapid shift in birdsong than was previously thought to occur. Scott Ramsay, a behavioral ecologist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, was the first to notice that the forest sounded a little off during a visit to western Canada with Ken Otter, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia. “He said, ‘Your birds are singing something weird,’” Dr. Otter recalled. Dr. Otter recorded some white-throated sparrow songs and turned them into spectrograms — visualizations that lay birdsongs out, so they can be more easily compared. The classic “Old Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody” songs ended in a triplet pattern: repeated sets of three notes. The new songs ended in doublets, like the record got stuck: “Old Sam Peabuh-Peabuh-Peabuh-Peabuh.” It was “a different kind of syncopation pattern,” Dr. Otter said. “They were kind of stuttering it.” Like many birds, male white-throated sparrows use songs to signal where their territory is, and to attract mates. Each individual sparrow has his own way of starting the song, but they all converge on a shared ending. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 27346 - Posted: 07.06.2020

By Bruce Bower An aptitude for mentally stringing together related items, often cited as a hallmark of human language, may have deep roots in primate evolution, a new study suggests. In lab experiments, monkeys demonstrated an ability akin to embedding phrases within other phrases, scientists report June 26 in Science Advances. Many linguists regard this skill, known as recursion, as fundamental to grammar (SN: 12/4/05) and thus peculiar to people. But “this work shows that the capacity to represent recursive sequences is present in an animal that will never learn language,” says Stephen Ferrigno, a Harvard University psychologist. Recursion allows one to elaborate a sentence such as “This pandemic is awful” into “This pandemic, which has put so many people out of work, is awful, not to mention a health risk.” Ferrigno and colleagues tested recursion in both monkeys and humans. Ten U.S. adults recognized recursive symbol sequences on a nonverbal task and quickly applied that knowledge to novel sequences of items. To a lesser but still substantial extent, so did 50 U.S. preschoolers and 37 adult Tsimane’ villagers from Bolivia, who had no schooling in math or reading. Those results imply that an ability to grasp recursion must emerge early in life and doesn’t require formal education. Three rhesus monkeys lacked humans’ ease on the task. But after receiving extra training, two of those monkeys displayed recursive learning, Ferrigno’s group says. One of the two animals ended up, on average, more likely to form novel recursive sequences than about three-quarters of the preschoolers and roughly half of the Bolivian villagers. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 27332 - Posted: 06.27.2020

By Laura Sanders COVID-19 cases described by U.K. doctors offer a sharper view of the illness’s possible effects on the brain. Strokes, confusion and psychosis were found among a group of 125 people hospitalized with infections of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus behind the pandemic. The results, described June 25 in Lancet Psychiatry, come from a group of severely sick people, so they can’t answer how common these types of neurological symptoms may be in a more general population. Still, these details bring scientists closer to better understanding COVID-19. Brain-related symptoms of COVID-19 patients can slip through the cracks. “These relatively rare but incredibly severe complications get missed, like needles in a haystack,” says Benedict Michael, a neurologist at the University of Liverpool in England. So he and his colleagues designed a survey to uncover these symptoms. Sign up for e-mail updates on the latest coronavirus news and research In April, neurologists, stroke physicians, psychiatrists and other doctors across the United Kingdom entered COVID-19 patient details to a centralized database as part of the survey. Targeting these scientific specialties meant that the patients included were likely to have brain-related symptoms. Of the 125 patients described fully, 77 experienced an interruption of blood flow in the brain, most often caused by a blood clot in the brain. Blood clots are a well-known and pernicious COVID-19 complication (SN: 6/23/20), and strokes have been seen in younger people with COVID-19. About a third of the 125 patients had a shift in mental state, including confusion, personality change or depression. Eighteen of 37 patients with altered mental states were younger than 60. So far, it’s unclear exactly how SARS-CoV-2 causes these symptoms. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 27330 - Posted: 06.27.2020