Chapter 9. Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell

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By Katarina Zimmer Scientists can trace the evolutionary histories of bats and humans back to a common ancestor that lived some tens of millions of years ago. And on the surface, those years of evolutionary divergence have separated us from the winged mammals in every way possible. But look on a sociobehavioral level, as some bat researchers are doing, and the two animal groups share much more than meets the eye. Like humans, bats form huge congregations of up to millions of individuals at a time. On a smaller scale, they form intimate social bonds with one another. And recently, scientists have suggested that bats are capable of vocal learning—the ability to modify vocalizations after hearing sounds. Researchers long considered this skill to be practiced only by humans, songbirds, and cetaceans, but have more recently identified examples of vocal learning in seals, sea lions, elephants—and now, bats. In humans, vocal learning can take the form of adopting styles of speech—for example, if a Brit were to pick up an Australian accent after moving down under. Yossi Yovel, a physicist turned bat biologist at Tel Aviv University who has long been fascinated by animal behavior, recently demonstrated that bat pups can acquire “dialects” in a similar way. © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Language; Animal Communication
Link ID: 24529 - Posted: 01.16.2018

By Kelly Crowe, "Scientists identify a sixth taste sense." It's a claim that has made headlines several times over the last few years — first for fat, then for starch and even for water. Now the new candidate for the sixth taste is calcium, after scientists identified the first calcium taste receptors in fruit flies. Researchers at the University of California studied fruit fly behaviour and discovered the flies could taste toxic levels of calcium and didn't like it. Then they used genetics to show that the calcium taste sense is hardwired into the fruit fly brain. University of California professor Craig Montell believes humans might share the fruit fly's taste sensor for calcium. (UC Santa Barbara) And because fruit flies and humans share the other main taste senses — sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savoury (called "umami") — the study's lead author, Craig Montell, thinks there's a good chance that humans also have specific calcium taste receptors. "I would say there is very good reason that, given that all the other tastes have been well conserved between flies and humans, that there probably is," said Montell. But the science of taste is surprisingly complicated. Even the idea that there might be additional taste receptors is controversial. As far back as Aristotle's time, scientists have been puzzling over the question. ©2018 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 24526 - Posted: 01.15.2018

Alison Abbott The brain’s navigation system — which keeps track of where we are in space — also monitors the movements of others, experiments in bats and rats suggest. In a study published in Science1 on 11 January, neuroscientists in Israel pinpoint individual brain cells that seem specialized to track other animals or objects. These cells occur in the same region of the brain — the hippocampus — as cells that are known to map a bat’s own location. In a second paper2, scientists in Japan report finding similar brain activity when rats watched other rats moving. The unexpected findings deepen insight into the mammalian brain’s complex navigation system. Bats and rats are social animals that, like people, need to know the locations of other members of their group so that they can interact, learn from each other and move around together. Researchers have already discovered several different types of cell whose signals combine to tell an animal where it is: ‘place’ cells, for example, fire when animals are in a particular location, whereas other types correspond to speed or head direction, or even act as a kind of compass. The latest reports mark the first discovery of cells that are attuned to other animals, rather than the self. “Obviously, the whereabouts of others must be encoded somewhere in the brain, but it is intriguing to see that it seems be in the same area that tracks self,” says Edvard Moser, a neuroscientist at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim, Norway, who shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for revealing elements of the navigation system. © 2018 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 24523 - Posted: 01.12.2018

By Emily Anthes Men with autism respond differently to human odors — and the social signals that they contain — than do their neurotypical peers, according to a new study. The results suggest that men with autism misread social signals present in human odors — causing them to misinterpret others’ emotions. Human sweat contains chemicals believed to convey social and emotional information. For instance, when women smell sweat collected from men watching scary movies, they are more likely to describe faces with ambiguous expressions as fearful. Advertisement In the new study, researchers exposed men to sweat collected from people who were skydiving. Unlike controls, men with autism do not show increased skin conductance, a measure of physiological arousal, to this ‘fear sweat.’ They are also more likely than controls to trust a mannequin that emits this scent. “I think this could be a meaningful aspect of impaired social interaction,” says lead investigator Noam Sobel, professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. “Humans constantly engage in social chemo-signaling; we do this all the time, and it shapes our interactions,” he says. “And somehow these mechanisms work differently in autism.” Several studies have examined olfaction in people with autism. Researchers have found, for example, that children with autism inhale odors differently than their typical peers do, and some children with the condition may be particularly sensitive to smells. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 24459 - Posted: 12.26.2017

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent Deafness has been prevented in mice using gene editing for the first time, in an advance that could transform future treatment of genetic hearing loss. The study found that a single injection of a gene editing cocktail prevented progressive deafness in baby animals that were destined to lose their hearing. “We hope that the work will one day inform the development of a cure for certain forms of genetic deafness in people,” said Prof David Liu, who led the work at Harvard University and MIT. Nearly half of all cases of deafness have a genetic root, but current treatment options are limited. However, the advent of new high-precision gene editing tools such as Crispr has raised the prospect of a new class of therapies that target the underlying problem. The study, published in the journal Nature, focused on a mutation in a gene called Tmc1, a single wrong letter in the genetic code, that causes the loss of the inner ear’s hair cells over time. The delicate hairs, which sit in a spiral-shaped organ called the cochlea, vibrate in response to sound waves. Nerve cells pick up the physical motion and transmit it to the brain, where it is perceived as sound. If a child inherits one copy of the mutated Tmc1 gene they will suffer progressive hearing loss, normally starting in the first decade of life and resulting in profound deafness within 10 to 15 years. However, since most people affected by the mutation will also have a healthy version of the gene, inherited from their other parent, the scientists wanted to explore whether deleting the faulty version worked as a treatment. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 24449 - Posted: 12.21.2017

by Ben Guarino Each year between February and June, the fish gather to spawn in Mexico's Colorado River Delta. The fish, a type of croaker called the Gulf corvina, meet in water as cloudy as chocolate milk. It's a reunion for the entire species, all members of which reproduce within a dozen-mile stretch of the delta. When the time is right, a few days before the new or full moons, the male fish begin to sing. To humans, the sound is machine guns going off just below the waterline. To female fish, the rapid burr-burr-burr is a Bing Crosby croon. Make that Bing cranked up to 11. Marine biologists who recorded the sound describe the animals as the “loudest fish ever documented,” said Timothy J. Rowell, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. Rowell and Brad E. Erisman, a University of Texas at Austin fisheries scientist, spent four days in 2014 snooping on the fish with sonar and underwater microphones. The land surrounding the delta is desolate, Rowell said. Fresh water that once fed wild greenery has been diverted to faucets and hoses. But the delta is alive with the sound of fish. “When you arrive at the channels of the delta, you can hear it in the air even while the engine is running on the boat,” Rowell said. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hearing; Animal Communication
Link ID: 24443 - Posted: 12.20.2017

Scientists have found a new way to explain the hearing loss caused by cisplatin, a powerful drug used to treat many forms of cancer. Using a highly sensitive technique to measure and map cisplatin in mouse and human inner ear tissues, researchers found that forms of cisplatin build up in the inner ear. They also found a region in the inner ear that could be targeted for efforts to prevent hearing loss from cisplatin. The study is published in Nature Communications (link is external), and was supported by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communications Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health. Cisplatin and similar platinum-based drugs are prescribed for an estimated 10 to 20 percent of all cancer patients. The NIH’s National Cancer Institute supported research that led to the 1965 discovery of cisplatin and continued development leading to its success as an essential weapon in the battle against cancer. The drugs cause permanent hearing loss in 40 to 80 percent of adult patients and at least half of children who receive the drug. The new findings help explain why cisplatin is so toxic to the inner ear, and why hearing loss gets worse after each treatment, can occur long after treatment, and is more severe in children than adults. “Hearing loss can have a major impact on a person’s life,” said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of NIDCD. “Many adults with hearing loss struggle with social isolation and depression, among other conditions. Children who lose their hearing often have problems with social development and keeping up at school. Helping to preserve hearing in cancer patients who benefit from these drugs would be a major contribution to the quality of their lives.”

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 24442 - Posted: 12.20.2017

By Elizabeth Quigley BBC Scotland news Scientists are close to establishing what causes a smell associated with sufferers of Parkinson's disease. They hope it could lead to the first diagnostic test for the disease. The breakthrough came after Joy Milne astonished doctors with her ability to detect the disease through smell under scientific conditions. A team from Manchester has found distinctive molecules that seem to be concentrated on the skin of Parkinson's patients. One in 500 people in the UK has Parkinson's - that is 127,000 across Britain. Musky smell It can leave them struggling to walk, speak and sleep. Currently there is no definitive test for the disease, with clinicians diagnosing patients by observing symptoms. This is how the disease has been diagnosed since 1817, when James Parkinson first established it as a recognised medical condition. However, that could change because of Joy Milne from Perth, whose husband Les was told he had Parkinson's at the age of 45. About a decade before her consultant anaesthetist husband was diagnosed, Joy noticed she could detect an unusual musky smell. Joy said: "We had a very tumultuous period, when he was about 34 or 35, where I kept saying to him, 'you've not showered. You've not brushed your teeth properly'. "It was a new smell - I didn't know what it was. I kept on saying to him, and he became quite upset about it. So I just had to be quiet." The retired nurse only linked the odour to the disease after meeting people with the same distinctive smell at a Parkinson's UK support group. © 2017 BBC.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 24438 - Posted: 12.19.2017

By Mary Bates Whip spiders, also known as tailless whip scorpions, are actually neither spiders nor scorpions. These strange creatures belong to a separate arachnid order called Amblypygi, meaning “blunt rump,” a reference to their lack of tails. Little was known about whip spiders before the turn of this century, but a recent flurry of behavioral and neurophysiological studies has opened a window into their unique sensory world. Researchers have discovered that some of the more than 150 species engage in curious behaviors, including homing, territorial defense, cannibalism, and tender social interactions—all mediated by a pair of unusual sensory organs. Like all arachnids, whip spiders have eight legs. However, they walk on only six. The front two legs are elongated, antennae-like sensory structures called antenniform legs. These legs, three to four times longer than the walking legs, are covered with different types of sensory hairs. They constantly sweep the environment in a whiplike motion, earning whip spiders their common name. Whip spiders use their antenniform legs the way a blind person uses a cane—except that in addition to feeling their environment, whip spiders can smell, taste, and hear with their antenniform legs. All aspects of a whip spider’s life center on the use of these legs, including hunting—whip spiders are dangerous predators, if you’re a small invertebrate that shares the arachnids’ tropical and subtropical ecosystems. When Eileen Hebets, a biologist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, recorded the prey capture behavior of the whip spider Phrynus marginemaculatus, she observed a well-choreographed pattern. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24437 - Posted: 12.19.2017

Can you hear this gif? Remember the white and gold dress that some internet users were certain was actually blue and black? Well, this time the dilemma being discussed online is whether you can hear anything in a silent animation of skipping pylons. The gif was created in 2008 by @IamHappyToast as part of a photoshop challenge on the boards of and has been circulating online since then - such as on Reddit's r/noisygifs subreddit in 2013. Many social media users have discussed the noisy-gif phenomenon, as on Imgur in 2011, for example, where it was titled an "optical illusion for the ears". It resurfaced again last weekend when Dr Lisa DeBruine from the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology at the University of Glasgow posted it on Twitter, asking her followers to describe whether they experienced any auditory sensations while watching it. One person who suffers from ringing ears replied: "I hear a vibrating thudding sound, and it also cuts out my tinnitus during the camera shake." Others offered explanations as to why. While another suggested it may have something to do with correlated neuronal activity: "The brain is 'expecting/predicting' what is coming visually and then fires a version of what it expects across the relevant senses. Also explains why some might 'feel' a physical shake." "My gut says the camera shake is responsible for the entire effect. Anything that shook the camera like that, would probably make the 'thud' sound," posted another Twitter user.

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 24401 - Posted: 12.07.2017

By Marilla Steuter-Martin, CBC News By stimulating neural pathways, a team of Quebec researchers was able in a recent experiment to influence how much a group a twenty-somethings enjoyed their favourite music. The results of the Montreal Neurological Institute study might spur feelings of mistrust or dystopian images of mass-marketing mind control. But as McGill professor Alain Dagher tells it, the chances of this kind of technology being used to win over consumers is slim to none. "We don't have an interest to use this method to help sell music," Dagher, a co-author of the study, told CBC's All in a Weekend. Instead, he's hoping the process can be adapted to serve a more noble cause: in this case as an alternative treatment for mental illnesses such as depression or addiction. Dagher and his co-authors published the study last month in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. A group of 20 subjects in their 20s listened to music selected by the researchers and rated how much they enjoyed it, how it made them feel and how likely they would be to go out and buy it. Their brain responses were also measured. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 24386 - Posted: 12.04.2017

By Shawna Williams While humans aren’t as smell-dependent as many other animals, studies have shown we respond differently to others when they’re emitting certain olfactory signals—even if we can’t consciously detect them. In a study published today in Nature Neuroscience, researchers find that men with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes respond differently to these chemical cues in human sweat than do people without the disorder, indicating that such responses may partly explain the disorder’s symptoms. In one experiment, the researchers asked 20 men with ASD and 20 typical men to perform cognitive tasks while they smelled either pads with sweat from skydivers (which contained high levels of cortisol, indicating fearfulness), or pads with no sweat. Just a few participants in each group reported being able to consciously detect scent from the sweat-infused pads, but the men in the non-ASD group showed an increase in electrodermal activity, a proxy for an aroused nervous system, while ASD participants did not. To see what effect the smell of fear might have on behavior, the researchers rigged up two mannequins to “talk” and emit the odor of either fear-related sweat or workout sweat. Participants received clues from the mannequins on how to complete a task, and the researchers measured their performance on the task as a measure of trust. “[W]e observed a dissociation whereby [typically developed] participants had increased trust in the control-smell [mannequin], yet ASD participants had increased trust in the fear-smell [mannequin],” the study’s authors write. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Autism; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 24374 - Posted: 11.29.2017

By Diana Kwon | Most of us are familiar with the role of smell in our dining habits—that basket of freshly baked cookies is usually much harder to resist than a plate of odorless carrot sticks, and the taste of food is strongly tied to its aroma. But animals’ sense of smell is even more intricately linked with eating and metabolism. Prior studies have shown that, in humans, fasting enhances olfactory sensitivity, while satiety reduces it. And a new study, published today (July 5) in Cell Metabolism, suggests that, at least in mice, this link may go even further—animals engineered to lack a sense of smell gained less weight and burned more fat than their unaltered counterparts. This difference in weight gain was almost entirely due to alterations in body fat composition. “The major thing was that [the mice lacking smell] weren’t gaining fat,” coauthor Andrew Dillin, a biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, tells The Scientist. “Somehow, the olfactory system is engaging the major control circuit in the brain that controls peripheral metabolism . . . and that is turning on a program to burn fat.” Dillin says his team was interested in knowing whether simply eating fattening food led to weight gain, or if it was how the olfactory system “perceived” those calories that matters. To assess this link between olfaction and metabolism, scientists genetically engineered mice that expressed a gene for a diphtheria toxin receptor on olfactory sensory neurons. Once the animals were around seven weeks old, the researchers injected the toxin to kill off these nerve cells and found that these animals had lost their sense of smell. Control animals generated without this receptor retained all their smell neurons after receiving the toxin. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Obesity; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 24352 - Posted: 11.24.2017

By VERONIQUE GREENWOOD When people tell you, “wake up and smell the roses,” they might be giving you bad advice. Your sense of smell may fluctuate in sensitivity over the course of 24 hours, in tune with our circadian clocks, with your nose best able to do its job during the hours before you go to sleep, according to a study published last month. The work, reported in the journal Chemical Senses, is part of a larger push to explore whether adolescents’ senses of taste and smell influence obesity. Rachel Herz, a sensory researcher at Brown University, and her colleagues designed this study to see if there might be times of day when the sense of smell was more powerful — perhaps making food smell particularly inviting. For the experiment, 37 adolescents ranging in age from 12 to 15 came into a lab for a very long sleepover party. For nine days, they followed a strict schedule to allow researchers to focus on the circadian clock, which helps control wake and sleep, but also influences other processes in the body, including metabolism. While more research is needed to test whether the results fully apply to adults, Dr. Herz says that as you grow up, the makeup of the smell receptors inside your nose doesn’t seem to change, although there is evidence your body clock may. The team kept track of where the teenagers were in their circadian cycle by measuring their saliva’s levels of melatonin, a hormone that rises and falls regularly over the course of the day. Every few hours, the children took a scent test, sniffing different concentrations of a chemical that smells like roses. The researchers recorded the lowest concentration they could detect at each time point. When the results were tallied up, the researchers saw a range of responses. “Nobody has the same nose,” Dr. Herz said. Some adolescents had only very mild changes in sensitivity, while sensitivity altered dramatically in others. Averaged together, however, the results showed that overall the circadian clock does affect smell, and that the times when the children’s noses were most sensitive tended to correspond to the evening, with an average peak of 9 p.m. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 24311 - Posted: 11.09.2017

Rachael Lallensack It takes a village to teach a bat how to communicate. Baby Egyptian fruit bats learn calls from their mothers, but research now shows that they can learn new dialects, or the pitch of their vocalizations, from the colony members around them. Learning to communicate by repeating the noises that others make is something only a few mammal groups — including humans, whales and dolphins — are known to do. Researchers call this vocal learning, and it's something that they're starting to study in bats. Findings published on 31 October in PLOS Biology1 show that bats can also pick things up from the group around them, a process that the authors dub crowd vocal learning. Bats are becoming the best organism to use in studies of how mammals learn to vocalize, because they’re more easily manipulated in the lab than whales or dolphins. The latest research underscores their importance, says neuroscientist Michael Yartsev of the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved with the work. Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) are highly social and live in colonies with dozens to thousands of other bats. To see how the pups learn dialects, researchers caught 15 pregnant Egyptian fruit bats and took them into the lab. To control for potential genetic effects, they ensured that the mothers weren't closely related. The team then split the mothers into three groups of five and put each group into one of three chambers, where the mothers gave birth to their young. The scientists used recordings of wild Egyptian fruit bat colonies that were low in frequency, high or a mix of both frequencies, and then piped one pitch into each chamber. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 24275 - Posted: 11.01.2017

By Deirdre Sackett A few years ago, I watched a YouTube video called “Virtual Barbershop.” It was one of those viral videos that attempted to be somewhat educational. It featured (somewhat silly) barbershop sounds recorded with a special microphone that made the sounds appear as if in 3-D, to demonstrate how the brain localizes sounds. Although it was meant to be funny and a bit of a gag video, I noticed that some of the 3-D sounds actually relaxed me. In fact, I realized it was the same calming feeling I got when watching, of all things, Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting” videos. Curious, I watched some of Bob’s YouTube videos, and sure enough, his soothing voice, brushing and tapping sounds, and calm, deliberate actions had me nearly falling asleep. By some happy little accident, I noticed a “recommended” video in the YouTube side bar called “Oh, such a good 3-D ASMR video.” I immediately felt relaxed upon hearing the sounds in the video, and even felt a small “tingle” in my head. That’s how I discovered that I had ASMR. ASMR? It sounds like some horrible affliction—an acronym for a weird, one-in-100 million condition. “Hi, I’m Deirdre, and I have ASMR.” What is it—and why is my brain tingling? © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Hearing; Emotions
Link ID: 24244 - Posted: 10.26.2017

Nicola Davis When it comes to understanding how another person thinks and feels, it might be best to close your eyes and listen. A study by an American psychologist suggests that people are better able to pick up on the emotions of others when simply focusing on their voice, compared with both watching and listening to them, or just watching them. “Humans are actually remarkably good at using many of their senses for conveying emotions, but emotion research historically is focused almost exclusively on the facial expressions,” said Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale University and author of the study. While combining information from a person’s voice with their facial expressions and other cues might at first seem like a way to boost understanding of their thoughts and feelings, Kraus says pooling the senses divides attention. What’s more, he notes, facial expressions can mask a person’s true feelings – something that he says is harder to do with the voice – while language plays a key role in how people understand and label their emotions. The upshot, he says, is that what people say, and the way they say it, offers the clearest insights into the emotions of others. “Listening matters,” said Kraus. “Actually considering what people are saying and the ways in which they say it can, I believe, lead to improved understanding of others at work or in your personal relationships.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Attention; Hearing
Link ID: 24173 - Posted: 10.11.2017

By Frank Swain Just what you need in the age of ubiquitous surveillance: the latest cochlear implants will allow users stream audio directly from their iPhone into their cochlear nerve. Apple and implant manufacturer Cochlear have made “Made for iPhone” connectivity available for any hearing implants that use the next-generation Nucleus 7 sound processor. The advance means that these implants can also stream music and Netflix shows. The technology was first unveiled in 2014 when it was added to hearing aids such as the Starkey Halo and ReSound LiNX. But this is the first time it’s been linked into the central nervous system. While some cochlear implants already offer Bluetooth connectivity, these often require users to wear extra dongles or other intermediary devices to pick up digital signals, and then rebroadcast them to the hearing aid as radio. This technology simply beams the signal right into the brain. It’s also a better way to use Bluetooth. Bluetooth headsets have been commonplace since the early 2000s, but the energy-sapping technology has meant they are typically clunky devices with poor battery life. In 2014, Apple technicians developed a way to stream audio over the low energy Bluetooth format used by wearables such as FitBits. Now, tiny devices like hearing aids – and Apple’s Airpods — can stream audio signals for up to a week on a battery the size of an aspirin. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 24163 - Posted: 10.09.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR A poor sense of smell may indicate an increased risk for dementia, a new study has found. Researchers recruited 2,906 men and women ages 57 to 85, testing their ability to identify five odors — orange, leather, peppermint, rose and fish. Five years later, 4.1 percent of them had dementia. Of all the factors the researchers measured — age, sex, race, ethnicity, education, other diseases the subjects may have had — only cognitive ability at the start of the study and poorer performance on the “smell test” were associated with an increased risk for dementia. The study is in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The risk went up steadily with the number of odors they failed to recognize, and over all, compared with those with no olfactory impairment, those with smelling difficulties had more than twice the likelihood of developing dementia. Even among those who initially tested within the normal range for mental ability, a poor sense of smell more than doubled the risk for dementia five years later. “This is not a simple, single-variable test for the risk of dementia,” said the lead author, Dr. Jayant M. Pinto, a specialist in sinus and nasal diseases at the University of Chicago. “But sensory function is an indicator of brain function. When sensory function declines, it can be a signal to have a more detailed examination to see if everything’s O.K.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Alzheimers
Link ID: 24137 - Posted: 10.03.2017

By Marlene Cimons In 2007, a few days after participating in a two-day sailing race, Cathy Helowicz began feeling dizzy. It was as if the floor and walls were moving. A decade later, “it’s never gone away,” she says. “Sometimes I wake up at 4 a.m. and feel like I’m in a washing machine.” Helowicz, 57, a former government computer scientist who lives in Jupiter, Fla., suffers from mal de débarquement syndrome (MdDS), a puzzling neurological disorder that leaves patients feeling as if they are rocking, swaying or bobbing when they are actually still. “I was very fortunate I didn’t have to go to a job, since you really cannot work with this,” she says of the little-understood disorder. (She left the government when she was 34 — before developing MdDS — and now writes children’s books and spy novels.) “I went through 11 doctors, 13 medications and seven months before I found a doctor who said I had classic MdDS symptoms.” Onset typically follows motion exposure — after a cruise, for example, or after flying, riding a train, even a lengthy car ride. MdDS can last for months, even years. It also can occur spontaneously, without motion exposure, although that is less common. “It’s an oscillating feeling like walking on a suspension bridge or a trampoline,” says Yoon-Hee Cha, an assistant professor at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, who has been studying MdDS. “It can be an absolutely devastating disorder. What is difficult for people to understand is that patients can look normal but feel awful.” © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24134 - Posted: 10.02.2017