SPEECH & LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST
EARLY CHILDHOOD CONSULTANT
FREELANCE WRITER
ABOUT KATE ROSS

Reuben & Me

What I've Learned About The Brain

The brain has always fascinated me, since my first psychology class in high school.  How do we learn? How do we retain information? What makes us tick? In this section, I wish to share with you information I've learned through various modes:

  1. research from books, lectures, conferences, and coursework
  2. living reality of caring for a relative who suffered a debilitating stroke
  3. living reality of caring for a child diagnosed with a brain tumor

Because of my career, my focus is communication skills. The brain is a complex structure with many hidden components yet to be discovered. Developing imaging technology has opened many doors into the workings of the brain, but not all doors yet.  That may never happen or at least not in our current lifetime. But then again, who knows?  

Here is some of what I've learned:

  • For the most part, the left side of the brain, the temporal region, holds much of the language center, both receptive (what we know/understand/hear) and expressive (what we express/say). It is not unusual to find overlap, such as some aspects of language are found on the right side of the brain. 
  • Early on, my daughter was administered a test prior to her first surgery where half of her brain was 'frozen', awakened then the other half was 'frozen.'  This test was performed so that the neurologists could ascertain where her language function was situated. She was awake during the procedure. Doctors asked her various questions and requested her to perform various tasks as they watched a live MRI noting what parts of her brain were being activated. Her brain compensated for the damage by transferring some language tasks to the right side. To this day, my daughter still recalls the funny feeling in her brain as this test occured. 
  • When there is damage through trauma, stroke, tumor, etc. on the left side of the brain, it effects the right side of the body. Thus if someone shows paralysis or weakness on the right side of the body (arm, leg, face), it typically means there is damage within the left side of the brain.  And vice versa, left side weakness indicates right side brain trauma. 
  • The brain is plastic.  We can teach an old dog new tricks!  When my 82-year old father had a stroke, involving much of the left side of his brain, he did not speak. He seemed to sporadically understand what we were saying to him, but that was difficult to ascertain as he was not speaking. I showed him how to sign both 'yes' and 'no', simple motor movements involving just one hand.  Because his dominant right side was weakened, he used his left hand.  When I asked a simple yes/no question, my father was able to respond with a fisted left hand up and down motion for 'yes' or a two fingered snap against his thumb for 'no'. My dad responded via sign language to some important questions as we cared for him.
  • For those who have suffered a stroke, tumor, or a debilitating brain trauma, when expressive language is compromised, assume that the person is still hearing and understanding. My own daughter is prone to seizures since her surgical and radiation treatments. When she experienced a grand mal seizure, she later informed me of this tidbit. As she was lying in an emergency room bed recovering from a grand mal seizure, she spoke gibberish, aphasically (stroke-like) - we could not understand what she said. However, though she could not produce recognizable or accurate words, she admitted later that she always knew what we were saying to her. And she recognized her spoken words were off as she grimaced and let us know it was not what she meant to say. So until proven otherwise, err on the side that a person actually understands what you are saying, even though expressive language may be effected by brain trauma.  
  • No two brain insults/injuries are the same. Characteristics vary extensively. So do not provide 'cookie-cutter' responses. Treat all with brain insults/injuries as individuals.
  • It is a long and difficult road caring for a person who has a brain tumor, brain injury, stroke or other dibilitating insult on the brain. No one can possibly understand the all-encompassing aspect of this situation unless you walk within the shoes of those effected.  It is ever-changing. Even the tiniest glimmers of movement, such as lifting or bending a finger or twitching the mouth can be rewarding positive milestones of hope. What the rest of us take for granted on a daily basis, is a huge accomplishment to think about and act upon with those who have compromised brain systems.  Patience truly is a virtue we all need to experience in this world of compromised brain systems.  Always maintain hope. Hope is what drives you forward in times of need.

To ask questions or share information please email:  Kate@katerossconsultant.com