The neuroscience of hyper-reading

book.jpgWeekly research digest Science News has put this week’s cover article online – a story on the neuroscience of reading and children with hyper-advanced reading skills.

The condition is called hyperlexia and involves an ability to read words far in advance of children of the same age, usually accompanied with problems with spoken language and social interaction.

Because of the mixed picture, researchers have debated whether it is a superability or disability, as it almost always occurs in children with developmental problems.

The article also examines research on Chinese readers, who seem to use more parts of the brain to read the information-rich Chinese characters.

Link to article Read All About It from

Sudden recovery of brain function after 10 years

The New York Times reports on a firefighter who has made a remarkable and sudden recovery after suffering severe brain injury in 1995.

Donald Herbert sustained a serious head injury when a roof collapsed during a fire fighting operation and has been in hospital since, with his ability to communicate and recognise people severely impaired.

According to news sources, Mr Herbert suddenly started speaking after 10 years, asking to see his wife and other family members.

The recovery has left doctors baffled. So little is known about how the brain repairs and regenerates after injury that it is difficult to predict the course of recovery, although substantial improvement after the first few years of injury are rare.

Some other remarkable cases have been recorded though, including the case of Terry Wallis who regained consciousness after 19 years.

Link to story from New York Times.
Link to story from Yahoo News.
Link to additional information on recovery at the Brain Injury Recovery Network.

Virtual Reality test for brain trauma

LaPlaca_VR.jpgA group of neuroengineers led by Michelle LaPlaca have developed a virtual-reality test for psychological impairments caused by head injury.

The system called DETECT (‘display enhanced testing for concussions and mild traumatic brain injury’) is designed to pick-up subtle cognitive problems that can accompany blows to the head.

Such problems are often difficult to detect at first, but can be important medical pointers to more significant or longer lasting impairments.

The VR system presents a number of neuropsychological tests that seem like simplified video games, but record accuracy and reaction time scores, that allow memory and visual perception to be assessed.

Crucially, it only takes 7 minutes, whereas traditional testing could take several hours, and because of the immersive nature of VR, it might be possible to use it in noisy environments, such as emergency rooms, sports fields or even battlefields.

Link to New Scientist story on DETECT.
Link to details from Georgia Tech University website.
PDF of research summary.

Mental health and human rights

Open access medical journal PLoS Medicine has a thought-provoking article on mental health, human rights and the standard of mental health care around the world.

It mentions some shocking statistics that highlight how low a priority mental health is for most countries, despite the massive burden of disability it causes.

According to the 2001 World Health Report, “some 450 million people suffer from a mental or behavioral disorder, yet only a small minority of them receive even the most basic treatment”… According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental and behavioral disorders are estimated to account for 12% of the global burden of disease, yet the mental health budgets of the majority of countries constitute less than 1% of their total health expenditures.

Various cases of poor practice are highlighted, including a shocking picture of the sanitary facilities in Larco Herrera Psychiatric Hospital in Lima.

The article goes on to suggest ways to tackle the problem, both in the health care and legal systems, and discusses integrating an approach to mental disability into a wider human rights approach.

Link to PLoS Medicine article Out of the Shadows.