The future of aphasia communication

TED Talk given by Mary Lou Jepsen: Could future devices read images from our brains?

Starting at 5:33, the most exciting part for people with aphasia. Taken from the transcript at TED. You have to watch the video to see why this is so exciting because the transcript doesn’t show the results of the computer’s interpretation of neural activity.

Next let me share with you one other experiment, this from Jack Gallant’s lab at Cal Berkeley. They’ve been able to decode brainwaves into recognizable visual fields. So let me set this up for you. In this experiment, individuals were shown hundreds of hours of YouTube videos while scans were made of their brains to create a large library of their brain reacting to video sequences. Then a new movie was shown with new images, new people, new animals in it, and a new scan set was recorded. The computer, using brain scan data alone, decoded that new brain scan to show what it thought the individual was actually seeing. On the right-hand side, you see the computer’s guess, and on the left-hand side, the presented clip. This is the jaw-dropper. We are so close to being able to do this. We just need to up the resolution. And now remember that when you see an image versus when you imagine that same image, it creates the same brain scan.

This is incredible. Could we train a machine to interpret thoughts into images? And then to interpret images into words? Could we make that machine small and inexpensive? This has been the trajectory of all technology. Soon people with aphasia are going to be communicating without speech therapy if this technology or a similar one becomes widely available. Technology is replacing the field of speech pathology, and that is exciting because it means that more people will be able to communicate well.

Preventing Dementia: Exercise

According to a recent study detailed at, exercising in your twenties is an effective method of preventing cognitive decline. This longitudinal study of 2747 participants tested cardiovascular health of the participants and then 25 years later tested the participants’ cognitive function. They concluded that “better verbal memory and faster psychomotor speed at ages 43 to 55 years were clearly associated with better CRF 25 years earlier.”

Another source shows that exercise has a direct effect on neural activity:

This study is of interest to speech pathologists because it demonstrates one factor that influences language ability in older populations. Also, speech pathologists need to keep their verbal memory so that they can continue practicing, so the practical application: speech pathologists should exercise to stay good at their jobs.

Further, the lungs are an integral part of the speech system since respiration is required for phonation. Exercise keeps the lungs healthy and therefore is recommended for speech health.

The takeaway? Exercise for brain health and future speech preservation.


Autism starts in the womb

The incidence of diagnosed autism cases in the US is rising. The CDC reports that 1 of every 42 American boys now is affected by the disorder (CNN).

The school system is responsible for providing services to these children, as the Individuals with Disabilities Act requires. The school system currently spends approximately 8.5 thousand dollars to provide services for each child on the autism spectrum (CNN).

With more children being diagnosed each day, the search for an identifiable etiology and a cure continues.

A recent NPR article highlights a study (NEJM) that suggests autistic changes to the brain begin in the womb.

In the neurotypical children who participated in this study, the cortical regions of the brain were composed of six layers. The children with autism who participated in the study, however, had disorganized collections of cortical cells.

Why is this exciting? We still really have no idea what causes autism and how to treat it. If autism starts in the womb and is correlated to atypical cortical layers, then this might be a step forward in treating. Early intervention might mean better outcomes, especially if future advances in therapy allow children with autism to develop new neural pathways where there are congenital problems.



Knitting and cognition

Sometimes, reading the news can be wonderful.

Behold, the article: This is your brain on knitting (CNN).

In my graduate program, there are a lot of knitters. I’m not sure what underlies the speech pathology/knitting correlation, but the effects of knitting could be very useful for speech pathology students.

Apparently, knitting — a legitimate meditation replacement — has the following benefits:

1. Stress reduction

2. Prevent mild cognitive impairment

3. Depression alleviation

4. Inflammation reduction

5. Parasympathetic nervous system activation

6. Dopamine release

7. Improved self-efficacy

8. Protection against dementia

All of these benefits of course help graduate students. Less stress? Less neurodegeneration? Yes, please.

I also see some benefit for older speech clients. Perhaps our field should grow to encompass knitting therapy as a neuroprotective strategy.


Need some inspiration?

World Vision has a program called Knit for Kids. Knit for two good causes: your health and world help. Patterns are available here.

More free patterns available in a Kindle book, New Favorites from Lion Brand.