About the presenter: Scott Bachmeier is a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Spending his formative years growing up in South Dakota, he attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, graduating in 1985 with degrees in physics and meteorology. His first 10 years out of college were spent working at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, but the wild weather of the Upper Midwest brought him back to Wisconsin in 1996 to enjoy cross country skiing, cycling, and canoeing in the great outdoors.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2005.

Brain Trauma: A Temporary 'Cure' for Stuttering?

by Scott Bachmeier
from Wisconsin, USA

My stuttering problem initially developed back in grade school -- the days when we took turns reading aloud in class were dark days indeed. My speech seemed to get progressively worse through the middle school years, when more "opportunities" for speaking in front of the class were always an embarrassing disaster. I never did try any therapy in school -- I don't recall if the reason was unavailability, or a lack of interest on my part.

Interestingly enough, the "turning point" for my speech seemed to be in high school, where a required class was "Speech". I'm not sure why or how, but something clicked for me in that particular class, and I somehow learned to relax enough while speaking to reduce the stuttering to a more acceptable level.

Through the rest of high school and into college, I mastered the deceptive art of word substitution. Having a large and diverse vocabulary was a boon. I knew people could tell that I had a stutter, but it was better than it was for me back in grade school and middle school, so I was reasonably content with that.

In general, I would describe my dysfluency as "mild" -- fairly easy to hide on the good days (using word substitution), and a minor nuisance on the bad days. However, I have experienced a pair of incidents during the past 3 years when my stuttering seemed to briefly disappear following a "brain trauma".

The first incident was about 20 days after I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm (back in July 2002). One of the first memories I have of my 3-week hospital stay was from the final 1-2 days -- I remember talking with my wife in the hospital room, and it occurred to me that I was remarkably fluent during the entire course of the conversation. Naturally, my initial thought was "Hey, maybe this brain aneurysm somehow cured my stuttering!". Unfortunately, the effect was short-lived, and in fact my speech became even worse in the months following the aneurysm (out of frustration, I purchased a Speech Easy device to try to get my speech back to an acceptable level of fluency). Thinking back, I wonder if the "temporary fluency" may have been related to the plethora of medications that I was taking at the time?

Another similar event occurred about 2 1/2 years later. I was recovering from two spinal cord surgeries (to correct residual complications from the aforementioned brain aneurysm), and decided to try going to the health club to sit in the whirlpool while my daughter had swimming lessons. After about 10-15 minutes in the hot water, I began to feel very dizzy, my entire face began to get numb, and I noticed that I had lost control of my left arm -- convinced that I was having a stroke, we called an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived, they asked me a barrage of questions, and even though it was difficult to speak clearly due to the facial numbness, I actually felt rather "fluent" in terms of my ability to get the words out as I was answering their questions. As it turns out, this was not a true stroke, but a transient event where the drop in blood pressure to my head (caused by my time in the whirlpool) induced stroke-like symptoms for about an hour.

So do these 2 events have anything in common? My brain aneurysm occurred along the Posterior Inferior Cerebellar Artery (PICA), so there was some trauma to the cerebellum (which probably has some role in speech) and the brain stem. Since that vessel now has 2 aneurysm clips, the blood flow to the cerebellum is probably a bit more "fragile", and the hot tub incident may have upset that delicate balance just enough to induce another short-lived transient event that ended up changing my speech. Unfortunately, I haven't yet mustered the courage to get back into a hot for a long enough time to induce another similar event (to study the repeatability of such an unconventional speech enhancement technique)... but until I do, I'll just have to wonder about what really happened to have caused my dysfluency to disappear for those relatively short periods of time.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2005.

August 26, 2005
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