Misc. Neurological conditions


The following are bits of writing from many sources such as personal correspondence, posts to on-line discussion groups, notes, and occasionally even some journaling. All of this is informal in nature, but contains some interesting and/or useful information.

Neurophenomenon spotlight: Fooling ourselves
[Posted to the neuroscience group on MySpace.com]
I'm looking for instances/examples of (and explanations for) consciousness creating a seamless reality for an individual in spite of overwhelming evidence that something is wrong.
I could narrow this down to restrict self-delusional ideologies, but hopefully the following examples will sufficiently illustrate what I'm talking about.
This case came from a lady who used to work in my lab. (Disclaimer: I got this story secondhand and ~20 years after the fact, and on top of everything else I only heard it once, so details may not be complete or entirely accurate.)
When this lady was in her early 20s, her grandmother had a stroke. She and her mother took her grandmother to the hospital. While her mother was talking to the doctor, the grandmother started saying things like, "What are all these fucking fairies doing here?" This didn't make any sense to the granddaughter, but she thought maybe it was an epithet for the male nurses. However, after she repeated statements of this sort several times, some questioning followed, and it turned out the grandmother was indeed seeing mythological creatures hovering in the air, roughly 12" tall with wings, etc.
To me, the fact that she was hallucinating wasn't as remarkable as the fact that she non-judgmentally accepted the appearance of said fairies as a normal event. One would have expected her to say, "Hey, I'm hallucinating!" For some reason she didn't.
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As idiosyncratic as this story is, this is far from the only case of something like this occurring. The title character of the much-referenced (in this forum anyway) "Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" failed to recognize that he had problems with his vision. The issue was only brought to his attention by a series of embarrassing incidents in which, for example, he was found speaking to parking meters under the impression they were children. Even then, this individual couldn't see (no pun intended) that the problem was with his flawed perception, not the resulting behavior.
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Granted, there are a lot of smaller phenomena such as optical illusions where we are "deluded" into seeing (or failing to see) something that was never (or maybe was always) there, but cases like the two cited above are a step above sensory processing.
So what gives? I've never heard any explanations for this that didn't sound like psychoanalysis (e.g., unconsciously chosen coping mechanisms, etc.). Does anyone have a neurobiological explanation for the above? Or more examples? Those are always interesting.

Neurophenomena cont'd
[Posted to the neuroscience group on MySpace.com]
>So wouldn't the physiological affects [of a stroke]...also include hallucinations like in the grandmother...
I'm not sure whether hallucinations are common in stroke victims or not, but what interests me is the fact that the grandmother in this case didn't stop and say, "Wait a second! Why am I seeing fairies?" As I understood the story, the grandmother was otherwise very alert and conversant.
By contrast, one of my professors related a story in which she experienced an auditory hallucination. She had taken a muscle relaxer and a short while later began to hear a "muzak" version of "Tea for Two." She happened to be riding on a train at the time, so this didn't make any sense at all. She asked someone with her where the music was coming from, and they said that they couldn't hear it at all. She quickly realized that the medication was the likely culprit and immediately discontinued it. The sound gradually faded through the rest of the day until it was completely gone.
The important point is that she was completely conscious of the fact that this was entirely in her head (in spite of the high degree of specificity of the hallucination). The knew something was wrong immediately because the song seemed to last longer than was reasonable and the setting (i.e., the train) was all wrong for the hallucination.
Similarly, there are a couple other cases of auditory hallucinations in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" in which both patients experienced constant, specific pieces of music. And in both cases, they knew this was a hallucination. The question is why do some know and some don't?

Prosopagnosia
[Posted to the neuroscience group on MySpace.com]
There's a very, very short bit about prosopagnosia on a David Suzuki-hosted series on the brain that aired on Canadian tv and, later, the Discovery Channel. In it, a man with the condition is shown his own picture from a few years earlier and asked if he can identify the person in it. He guesses that it's the Prime Minister (of Japan; the patient is himself Japanese), but admits he really can't tell. It's an interesting clip because it reveals some of the subtleties of the condition. For example, he comments on the wrinkles of the person in the image, but fails to connect the picture to himself.

Tourette's
In an interview once, a person with Tourrett's syndrome explained how it was to have his compulsion to spit and bark. He said, "Imagine not breathing and then go on not breathing for a while. The longer you go, the worse it feels until you feel like you're going to die. Now start breathing again. *That's* how it feels to finally indulge the compulsion."

Synaesthesia?
I have something of synaethesia when it comes to people's names. In the lab I teach, I end up renaming at least one of my students every semester. I feel like I have put the universe in a slightly more orderly state when I find the name that fits someone perfectly. I guess I look more like a Jason than an Alex, but I liked that name, so I just adopted it one day.

Autism
Have you ever heard of that woman who got past her autism as a child (at least in part)? She is a professor of animal science somewhere now. She turns up on almost every documentary on autism on Discovery, TLC, PBS, etc. One of the things many autistic children and adults have a problem with is sensory overload. This is at least a partial explanation why they are so withdrawn and unaffectionate. The woman I mentioned described how she habituated herself beyond that by building a device silmiar to the one used to hold cattle in place: padded arms (more like walls) mechanically fold down and wrap around the cow's body so that they can't move while they are being milked, slaughtered, or having some medical examination/proceedure performed on them. For whatever reason, the custom human-version of this device did wonders to this woman. She was initially anxious when she placed herself in it, but, once past that, found that it was soothing. She continued using it for years to completely overcome some of the problems that originated with the autistic hard-wiring of her mind. I looked at the device and went, I want one.

Illusory Significance
There's something about classical schizophrenics and people who do acid in that they assign heightened significance to everything. Whatever is the most salient thing at the moment, that's going to be the most cosmic thing to someone on acid. When I was in high school, I had a lots of friends who did it, and I used to live vicariously through them. For example, my friend Pat was a year younger than I was. He used to do LSD every weekend. When he would get on the bus on Monday, I was say, "So where did you go (i.e. trip to) this weekend?" He would tell me all the crazy shit he saw and felt and experienced through all the wrong senses (e.g., what colors he heard, etc.). It was hilarious, but sad. He ended up going to the same college as I did a few years later, and he wasn't the same person. He was totally fried and sounded like a stoner. I would love to to LSD before almost any other drug available, but I don't want to end up like him or any of the other acid casualties I went to school with.

Grandiosity in mental states
I don't know if there's a clinical term for this, but I hear a lot about that with schizophrenics and people taking LSD. They tend to think ordinary things are *really* important, whether it's themselves, their ideas, Jodie Foster, or something in their pocket. Personally, I think Jodie Foster's pretty special, but I haven't made any plans to kill anyone to impress her yet.

Neuroscience
There's a phenomenon that sort of qualifies as the opposite of deja vu. In these cases (usually stroke victims), the afflicted individual believes that formerly familiar people and places are "imposters." They aren't delusional about things. They are otherwise completely rational, but they can't believe that their home really is their home or that their families are actually who they always knew. The explanation for this (and I don't know the epistemology of this to rate its validity) is that these people have lost a physical connection to the emotional component that accompanies the process of visual (and other sensory?) recognition. So if you look around your room, you see things that are familiar, but they don't *feel* familiar. You can't believe they're yours. Or you meet someone who looks just like your mom. But she doesn't *seem* like your mom for some strange reason.
I suppose it's possible that deja vu is, conversely, the over-activation of this pathway. Hence, unfamiliar situations feel like they have already been experienced... even though you probably couldn't guess what would happen next with any more prescience than you have at any other moment.

Synaesthesia
[reply to a post in the Synaesthesia group on MySpace.com]
>have you ever read about the cases that effect hearing and taste? i read an article about a guy who had to break up with a girl because her name 'tasted' bad. can you believe that?
I think I might have seen that same guy on a tv news magazine (maybe Primetime Live?). They interviewed a man with that particular set of crossed associations. The name of the food was almost more salient than the taste of the food itself. Not an especially pleasant variant to be cursed with!
>i have this one thing that happens but i'm not sure it has to do with syn; when i see something that looks painful or an injury that someone has i get pain in my legs.
I would say it qualifies, although I guess some psychologists and neuro people might disagree. I think any atypical association that crosses sensory lines should fall under that label. You see something and it affects you at the somatosensory level, then I would say that satisfies the definition so long as it isn't something common to the population. (I add the qualifier here since I'm sure there are other examples that we all have... but it's late so none come to mind at the moment.)
>i had a friend test me in math with only colors (i gave him a chart of my colors/numbers beforehand).
I should point out here that one of the most remarked-upon traits of synaesthesia is that it is usually very consistent across time. People who genuinely have it would be able to provide a consistent chart of cross-modality associations that would match one made weeks or even months and years earlier. It's a good way to tell whether you have the real thing or are just really good at creating associations.
>when it comes to reading i have a tough time sometimes because not only is my mind processes the whole word but it's also trying to see the individual colors within that word, does anyone have that?
I haven't heard of this specifically, but raises an important question. Are people aided or impaired by their particular cases of this condition? (I'll stop short of calling it a disorder.) I mentioned my association between music and the "rhythmic" cycling of some animated gifs. I guess I might mention that I'm a musician. Similarly, I recall reading that two of the major classic composers (sorry, I can't recall which) had specific cases in which they assigned colors to musical notes. One wonders whether this persuaded them to pursue their respective careers in music or if this was merely a distraction. To that end, has your association steered you away from working more with words in your daily life? I mean, you at least posted here thankfully!

Parkinsonian
>I was stumbling around like Ozzy on Valium! Heh.
Actually, a lot of his stumbling has been rumored to be due to anti-psychotic medication (which is especially warranted in cases where a guy bits the heads off of birds without provocation). The first generation of anti-psychotics were called neuroleptics because they destroyed dopamine-producing neurons, hence the Parkinson's like symptoms. There are newer medications that don't produce this side effect, but they weren't widely available in the '70s.

Psychosis and anti-malarials
[A message to a labmate working in this area]
Bret,
This is a long shot, but here is a bit of potentially interesting information for your project. You may have heard about the murders (I believe we are up to 5 at last count) of female spouses by military personnel at Fort Bragg. A connection between these has been proposed in that all of the perpetrators (at least two of whom subsequently committed suicide) had taken an anti-malarial agent known as Lariam (trade name; it also goes by mefloquine and mephaquine). As I understand it, these individuals had served in Afghanistan, although I am a little confused by the logic (mosquitoes in the desert?).
The side effects of the drug include a “neuropsychiatric adverse event.” I don’t know the mechanism (perhaps no one does), but a structural (if not mechanistic) similarity to chloroquin might be noteworthy.
More information can be found at http://www.indiana.edu/~primate/lariam.html (note that the page was first made available in 1997 with no additional mention of updates). However, I’m sure more sites will be popping up on searches as this information disseminates through the media.
Good luck.

Restless leg syndrome
I used to have "restless leg syndrome" (that's actually what it's called; there was a symposium on it at the last Neuroscience Conference, although I was in a different session). However, I haven't really experienced it in several years. Back when I lived in McKinney in particular, I used to have to get up in the middle of the night and sleep on the couch because I could jam my legs between the cushions to hold them still. I have no idea why that started or what caused them to stop, but I haven't had problems with my legs in quite a while.

Symptoms
>>Interestingly, when I talked to my counselor about her situation (in a context that is too long to explain but relating to my irritability with incompetent people), he said he thinks it is wrong to diagnose someone who is actively in an addictive phase. Since she's an alcoholic and bulimic, it is hard to sort out the overlapping traits.
That's a good point. Similarly, I think it's sort of distorted to talk about someone who is autistic who has OCD. They exhibit OCD symptoms, sure, but basically that's just another facet for certain types of autism.

Down's
>I had one try to kill me when I worked at an assisted living place. I guess usually they're nice but he was aggressive.
They're like children in (eventually) adult bodies. You get weird paradoxes of this developmental chimera. My dad's neighbors had a teenage daughter with Downs. Her parents remarked on the awful combination of having a child who was emotionally immature with PMS on top of everything else. It's a very strange and unfortunate mix of a child and adult maladies.

Barometric pressure
I was talking to a friend who is a nurse, and we got on the subject of barometric pressure. She mentioned that changes in the weather triggered migraines for her (By contrast, mine just occurred whenever it was least convenient; i.e., always). I told her that you had noticed the correlation between the weather and your joints (am I remembering correctly?). Her response...
"I remember reading something about how the changes in surface tension of red blood cells with barometric pressure changes can cause people w/ sickle cell anemia to go into crisis. When I worked in dialysis, the catheters and other accesses seemed to clot during the spring stormy season (in Missouri) and we all acknowledged it, even the patients, as fact, although I've never seen any literature to support this."
Just something for your "Hmmm" files.

Crazy
>Do you think it is really true that crazy people are unaware they are crazy?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. There is so much neurology I could go into here highlighting examples of cases where we aren't even talking about classical definitions of crazy such as schizophrenia. Have you ever read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"? The title story is an example right there. In general, the mind tends to invent a little story for itself. We mis-remember things so that they'll make sense. We see things that couldn't have been there but the wiring in our sensory systems makes something familiar out of nothing so we see what we expect to see, and so on.
An interesting example came from a lady who used to work in my lab. (Disclaimer: I got this story secondhand and ~20 years after the fact, and on top of everything else I only heard it once, so details may not be complete or entirely accurate.)
When this lady was in her early 20s, her grandmother had a stroke. She and her mother took her grandmother to the hospital. While her mother was talking to the doctor, the grandmother started saying things like, "What are all these fucking fairies doing here?" This didn't make any sense to the granddaughter, but she thought maybe it was an epithet for the male nurses. However, after she repeated statements of this sort several times, some questioning followed, and it turned out the grandmother was indeed seeing mythological creatures hovering in the air, roughly 12" tall with wings, etc.
To me, the fact that she was hallucinating wasn't as remarkable as the fact that she non-judgmentally accepted the appearance of said fairies as a normal event. One would have expected her to say, "Hey, I'm hallucinating!" For some reason she didn't

Over the borderline
This sounds exactly like my BPD roommate. The story that best illustrates my roommate's borderline personality disorder is the time I knocked my alarm clock over and broke it. It was a wind-up model, and it fell on the back and jammed the key forward so that all the cogs were all misaligned. I figured the clock was done for, but my roommate said he wanted to fix it. I said, don't worry about it. He took the clock and left. About an hour later, he comes back in and says, "Here, I fixed your damned clock." He throws it on the bed and storms off again. I didn't see him until late that night and only after he called me from a payphone several times. And I didn't even know we were supposed to be arguing!

Autism is a World
>There's a woman with Asperger's Syndrom who is a professor (in veterinary science I think)
Yeah, she's been on a lot of tv shows. There's a really good short documentary about severe autism called "Autism is a World" made by the girl who is subject of the film. It's really interesting how she can be afflicted in one area and completely functional in other areas. For example, when she talks, she sounds completely retarded (they thought she was for years). However, when she types, she speaks intelligently. She uses a handheld voice synthesizer to communicate, so this almost doesn't make any sense that she would be limited to that device. There's a lot more to it than that, but you would have to see it to understand.

Alzheimer's
Like a candle
Here's something my partner found that was written by a patient with Alzheimer's: "Sometimes I picture myself like a candle. I used to be a candle about 8 feet tall, burning bright. Now everyday, I lose a little bit of me. Someday the candle will be very small, but the flame will be just as bright." (by Barb Noon)

Synaesthesia
With synaesthesia
This was an personal account of synaesthesia that was recently posted in a discussion group I read. I don't know what's wrong with Emily's 'Shift' key, but the content is interesting just the same.
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hi im emily and i just found out abnout synesthesia last year. i have word/letter/number->color syn and some sound->sight and touch->sight too.
in elementary and middle school i saw music notes in color. i played the french horn and i learned it really fast because I could read music so easily because of the colors. it was hard though if the music was handwritten so the notes wouldnt be in quite the right place and i couldnt see the color and i would gte all messed up. i knew i couldnt read handwritten music but i could never explain why. now (in high school) i have pretty much lost my note-colors and I have a lot of trouble reading music and i have given up on the french horn after 7 years. i guess i never really learned how to read music properly i just relied on th colors or something.
i looove my syn. and its usually helpful too in math and spanish and its really helpful for spelling.
when i was little though (actually until this year it confused me) i couldnt figure out why 6 was an even number. with the way my colors were, 3, 6, and 9 are all divisible-by-three-ish colors and all the even numbers looked even. but 6 didnt look even it was a 3-ish color. and also once you got past 9 numbers like 12 and 15 that are multiples of 3 were confusing for me. so basically i just made myself memorise the colors of the whole 3 6 9 12 15 18 etc series and eventually the colors just sort of made sense. 21 is still bad though...it works for 3 x 7 but it doesnt fit the series... i dont know. and 6 still confused me until this year when i realized it was synesthesia and i didnt have to worry about 6 any more. and i always picked my favorite numbers buy color. it was 47 but i decided i didnt like orange so now its 61. i love teal and white.
my only experiences i can remember of touch syn is one time my friend was stretching me and i got these big thick lines of dancing blue and pink splotches, and one time i wanted to see if i could make myself itch (dont ask why) so i closed my eyes and was tickling my shoulder and i realized i wasnt waiting for a feeling i was waiting for orange. oh and one time i was getting numbing shot in my mouth and i saw this giant image of like i big red thing being split. and car horns, timers and any kind of beeping, and this sound i can make with my throat are my only sound->syn i know of
wow that was long. im just mildly obsessed and i love taking about it
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Apparently, I have a synaesthetic reaction to poor grammar. I feel ill after reading that!




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