Cutting edge research into brain activity patterns that affect stuttering could lead to breakthroughs in optimizing brain functions for a wide variety of people including Alzheimer’s patients. We go to the University of Texas at San Antonio cognitive neuroscience lab for a firsthand look at this research in action.
Breakthrough in Alzheimer’s Disease
Cutting-edge research into brain-activity patterns that affect stuttering could lead to breakthroughs in optimizing brain functions for a wide variety of people, including Alzheimer's patients.
We go to the University of Texas at San Antonio Cognitive Neuroscience Lab for a first-hand look at this research in action.
Well, stuttering is a difficult problem.
There aren't any good cures for stuttering.
And this is an opportunity to really understand the origins of stuttering, and it has the potential for actually developing practical tools.
We're studying people who stutter, and the reason for that is that they have pretty much normal brains, but every once in a while, it will clearly not be operating normally.
And it's just obvious when that happens.
And so we're trying to understand how a brain is pretty much normal most of the time, and then suddenly fails and then comes right back and acts normally again.
So people who stutter -- they'll be fluent, then dysfluent.
Then they're right back in the game and being fluent.
So we want to understand that process -- what's different about the brain when people are dysfluent versus when they're fluent?
I -- so, I had struggled with stuttering pretty much my entire life, and one day I wanted to, you know, do something about it, so I enrolled in this intensive speech path-speech pathology program over at Texas State.
And the professor there works with Dr. Jeffrey Mock here at UTSA.
And he invited me to be one of the test subjects since I've been very involved with...with helping out the-the school's, uh, speech program.
So, EEG is electroencephalography.
And basically, it means...it's the noninvasive brain-imaging technology.
It's really the only noninvasive brain technology that's portable.
So, EEG...There are other brain technologies, like MRI, and they require you to be in a big machine.
EEG -- you put it on your head.
You can move around, and because of the wireless technology, you can be monitored.
So EEG is the only brain technology -- imaging technology that you can do to monitor the brain at work.
Once we identify those fingerprints, then we're going to train people to change that electrical activity to fit the good fingerprint more often.
And we do that by feeding back activity about what the brain is doing in near-real time.
So it's sort of like playing Marco Polo, where you can kind of get information -- 'You're getting warmer.
You're getting warmer.
You're getting colder.' So we want them to get warmer towards that good brain state.
So this will be... They'll have an EEG cap on, and this cap has 64 metal electrodes embedded in it.
And they just sit on the subject's head just sort of like a baseball cap.
And they can pick up the electrical activity that makes its way from the brain to the scalp.
There's a skull in the way, so these are very small signals that we're picking up.
But nonetheless, we can pick them up, and we can connect that to a computer and try to read out the brain patterns, the activity patterns of the brain.
While we're doing all that, we're asking them to speak, and we're giving them these words, these funny pseudowords, I think, is what we're going to be looking at, that are difficult to pronounce.
So we're really trying to give them a stress test to make it very difficult to be fluent, and that's just simply to get better measures of what the brain is doing when they stutter versus when they're fluent.
I'm hoping that this research will lead to better ways to help people like me -- like me.
If they could find the area of the brain that could activate right before a person stutters, then, then science can, can target that, get that, that area and find a more physical... possibly a physical, uh... uh, way of help for people like me, uh-huh?
And also give me, for me personally, a sense of self-accomplishment that I know that I can help...that I can do something, something about it even if it's in just a small way.
I think it'll have many uses besides the basic understanding of stuttering and then the development of the application, which hopefully will lead to at least training, helping to train, or, you know, the ideal thing would be a real-time application that would assist people online.