Monday, April 8, 2013

Dystextia: Sign of Brain Trouble

Photo by David365.
Strokes all too often go undiagnosed despite efforts to increase awareness of the signs and risk factors.  Add to the signs the phenomenon of dystextia--the inability to text properly and the failure to recognize errors in one's own text messages.  It's interesting that for some of the case reports, dystextia is the only apparent sign of an abnormal cerebral function.

People should add dystextia to other communication failures that signal the possibility of a brain abnormality such as a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Right now, the number or reported cases is very small:

  • a 40 year old male in Ireland published in 2006
  • a 20 year old male in New Zealand published in 2011
  • a 40 year old male on business in Detroit published  in 2012
  • a 25 year old pregnant woman published in 2013

The man in Detroit did not detect any errors in his text messages including the phrase “Tjhe Doctor nddds a new bb," which should have read "The doctor needs a new Blackberry."  He was experiencing a stroke in the Broca's area of his brain, a key language center. 

P. Whitfield and S. Jayathissa--the Hutt Hospital, Wellington, New Zealand doctors who wrote up the case of the man in New Zealand--make this observation about texting and cognition: 

"Formulating and sending a text message requires complex motor, visual and language skills and involves coordinated function of several areas of the brain and could be affected by stroke or transient neurological disturbance. Dystextia is therefore not a specific neurological impairment – a difficulty sending a text message could suggest a variety of underlying deficits. Despite this, the presence of dystextia is likely to be a sensitive indicator of abnormal cerebral function."

Fortunately, the pregnant woman's husband was alarmed by her odd text messages "every where thinging days nighing. Some is where!."  Her husband encouraged her to see a doctor immediately. She was experiencing a left-hemisphere stroke. Luckily, she and the baby survived unharmed. 

Given the prevalence of cell phones and the graying of the world population, the number of people demonstrating dystextia may very well increase.  So when you get ready to mock a friend for a crazy text message, consider the possibility, admittedly a long shot, that they are suffering a brain abnormality. 


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