Two left feet? Study looks to demystify why we lose our balance

Aug. 14, 2013 — It’s always in front of a million people and feels like eternity. You’re strolling along when suddenly you’ve stumbled — the brain realizes you’re falling, but your muscles aren’t doing anything to stop it.For a young person, a fall is usually just embarrassing. However, for the elderly, falling can be life threatening. Among the elderly who break a hip, 80 percent die within a year.University of Michigan researchers believe that the critical window of time between when the brain senses a fall and the muscles respond may help explain why so many older people suffer these serious falls. A better understanding of what happens in the brain and muscles during this lag could go a long way toward prevention.To that end, researchers at the U-M School of Kinesiology developed a novel way of looking at the electrical response in the brain before and during a fall by using an electroencephalogram.Findings showed that many areas of the brain sense and respond to a fall, but that happens well before the muscles react. Lead researcher Daniel Ferris likened the study method to recording an orchestra with many microphones and then teasing out the sounds of specific instruments. In the study, researchers measured electrical activity in different regions of the brain.”We’re using an EEG in a way others don’t, to look at what’s going on inside the brain,” said Ferris, a professor in kinesiology. “We were able to determine what parts of the brain first identify when you are losing your balance during walking.”During the study, healthy young subjects with electrodes attached to their scalps walked on a balance beam mounted to a treadmill. When participants lost their balance and went off the beam, they simply continued walking on the moving treadmill, thus avoiding injury.Ferris and colleagues then used a method called independent components analysis to separate and visualize the electrical activity in different parts of the brain. …

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Fresh fuel reignites Asperger’s debate

July 30, 2013 — Children with Asperger’s Syndrome have different electroencephalography (EEG) patterns to children with autism, reveals a study in the open access journal BMC Medicine With distinct neurophysiology, the study pours fresh fuel on the on-going debate about how Asperger’s should be classified.People with Asperger’s syndrome experience social difficulties, and display restricted and repetitive behavioural patterns and interests. Until recently, the condition was classified as a disorder in its own right, distinct from the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which manifests some overlapping symptoms. But the most recent edition of the mental health manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published earlier this year, reversed the decision, lumping Asperger’s in with ASD.Frank H. Duffy and colleagues at the Departments of Neurology and Psychaitry of Boston Children’s Hospital studied electrical recordings from the scalps of children with Asperger’s and children with ASD. They looked at EEG-derived measures of brain connectivity, and found that, although the disorders were closely related, there were clear neurophysiological differences between the groups.The results show that Asperger’s and ASD can be discriminated on the basis of electrical activity in the brain. Asperger’s is a normally distributed entity that fits within the higher functioning end of the ASD. Just as dyslexia is now recognized as the low end of the reading ability distribution curve, so, the authors suggest, Asperger’s syndrome could be usefully defined as a distinct entity within the higher functioning end of the autism distribution curve. However, the authors caution that, with study numbers low, the results need replicating in larger numbers before any firm conclusions can be drawn.In the meantime, the stakes are high. Merging the diagnosis of Asperger’s into ASD, effectively removes the disorder as condition in its own right. Families and advocates are concerned that some people could lose their diagnosis, leading to repercussions at clinical, educational, emotional and financial levels.

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