I was shocked, however, when I did realize that I could not speak intelligibly. Even though I could hear myself speak clearly within my mind, This is Jill, I need help!, the sounds coming out of my throat did not match the words in my brain. I was disturbed to comprehend that my left hemisphere was even more disabled than I had realized. Although my left hemisphere could not decipher the meaning of the words he spoke, my right hemisphere interpreted the soft tones in his voice to mean that he would get me help.
Sixteen years ago the neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, had a massive stroke that would take her over a decade to recover from. The above quote is an excerpt from her book, My Stroke of Insight, which provides a fascinating account of her experience. Here she describes a common stroke symptom known as dysphasia, or a problem with speech.
On Christmas Eve the Archives of Neurology published a case report of a related, but unusual, deficit that occurred in an otherwise healthy and newly pregnant 25-year old woman who was having a stroke. Her husband (H) picked up on the problem based on the following text-message exchange about their baby’s due date that under less serious circumstances may have been featured on Damn You AutoCorrect (though apparently the patient – P – had disabled her phone’s autocorrect function earlier, something her husband knew about, so the errors below are hers):
H: So what’s the deal?
P: every where thinging days nighing
P: Some is where!
H: What the hell does that mean?
H: You’re not making any sense.
H: July 24, right?
P: J 30
H: July 30?
H: Oh ok. I’m worried about your confusing answers
P: But i think
H: Think what?
P: What i think with be fine
The bad news was that what the patient was thinking with was not fine. Her left middle cerebral artery was not filling properly and she had diffusivity in her left insular cortex, which is known to lead to speech problems such as dysphasia and aphasia. The good news was that her problem was picked up on and she received treatment leading to a rapid improvement in her language deficits and no evidence of fetal harm.
The case report’s authors referred to this presenting symptom as “dystextia,” which appears to have been coined in 2006 in reference to deficits in texting that may indicate neurological problems. We agree with the authors’ conclusion that,
As the accessibility of electronic communication continues to advance, the growing digital record will likely become an increasingly important means of identifying neurologic disease, particularly in patient populations that rely more heavily on written rather than spoken communication.
We predict that 2013 will bring with it more advanced health monitoring solutions that analyze patients’ daily behaviors, such as texting, and spot irregularities that may be cause for concern. Ginger.io is a leading company originating from the MIT Media Lab that turns mobile data into health insights by leveraging machine learning algorithms and big data collection. We look forward to seeing what they, and companies like them, come out with and what other terms will be added to the medical lexicon (e.g. “Obsessive Tweeting Disorder”).
Archives of Neurology: Dystextia – Acute Stroke in the Modern Age