Trastornos neurológicos

«¡Qué vergüenza!, ¡qué falta de educación! Esto lo arreglaba yo rápido y bien sé cómo». Así increpaba una señora a la madre de un adolescente, elevando el volumen de su voz para ser bien oída. La madre agachaba la cabeza, mordiéndose la lengua para no gritar su realidad, preguntándose cómo era posible que no se diera cuenta de lo que pasaba. Me lo contaba esa mamá, con lágrimas y rabia en su mirada, y aún sin entender muy bien por qué. Ella estaba en el autobús, con su hijo, un joven con la sombra del bigote ya asomando, que se había sentado en el primer sitio que encontró.…  Seguir leyendo »

La muerte de Cameron Boyce, el talentoso actor de Disney que según su familia murió mientras dormía después de una convulsión, a los 20 años en julio de 2019, se alinea con las experiencias de tantas otras familias que han perdido a sus seres queridos por muerte súbita por epilepsia (SUDEP, por sus siglas en inglés). La familia de Boyce dijo que su mortal convulsión ocurrió a causa de la epilepsia y su trágica pérdida es un recordatorio de que cada año, alrededor de 1 cada 1.000 personas con epilepsia mueren repentinamente. Entre ellos, si sus convulsiones no son controladas con medicamentos, la tasa se dispara a un pasmoso 1 de cada 150.…  Seguir leyendo »

On entend encore souvent qu’il n’y a pas de traitement efficace contre la maladie d’Alzheimer. Ce n’est vrai que dans la mesure où il n’y a pas encore de traitement qui guérisse la pathologie cérébrale. Mais nous pouvons déjà faire beaucoup pour les patients et leurs proches.

Il faut différencier les difficultés légères d’une part et les démences avérées d’autre part. Dans le premier cas, il s’agit de symptômes très légers, sans répercussion sur la vie quotidienne ou alors de problèmes de mémoire ressentis, mais sans déficit avéré. Ce sont parfois des signes précurseurs d’une maladie d’Alzheimer.

Mais souvent, ces troubles ont d’autres causes: une maladie vasculaire, une affection inflammatoire, un déséquilibre hormonal ou métabolique.…  Seguir leyendo »

En France, la ministre des Solidarités et de la Santé, Agnès Buzyn, a annoncé la fin du remboursement des médicaments anti-alzheimer. Une décision courageuse dans un pays où la proximité des lobbys avec le pouvoir fait démissionner les ministres les plus engagés. L’empire alzheimer vacillerait-il? Des médicaments qui coûtent très cher, inutiles et dangereux, révèle le livre du professeur Olivier Saint-Jean et d’Eric Favereau (Alzheimer, le grand leurre, 2018).

Alors que sévit la grande menace alzheimer, ce livre a le mérite de remettre les pendules à l’heure: d’ordinaire, la médecine est faite pour soulager, non pour accabler. Elle est faite pour les malades, non pour les médecins.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Nazi History Behind ‘Asperger’

My son’s school, David Starr Jordan Middle School, is being renamed. A seventh grader exposed the honoree, Stanford University’s first president, as a prominent eugenicist of the early 20th century who championed sterilization of the “unfit.”

This sort of debate is happening all over the country, as communities fight over whether to tear down Confederate monuments and whether Andrew Jackson deserves to remain on the $20 bill. How do we decide whom to honor and whom to disavow?

There are some straightforward cases: Hitler Squares were renamed after World War II; Lenin statues were hauled away after the collapse of the Soviet Union.…  Seguir leyendo »

En 2011, Ben Trumble dejó la selva boliviana y se llevó una mochila que contenía cientos de viales con saliva. Había pasado seis semanas siguiendo a los indígenas mientras se movían por la selva, lanzándole flechas a los jabalíes. Estos hombres eran miembros del pueblo tsimané, que vive como lo hacían nuestros ancestros hace miles de años: cazando, buscando comida y cultivando pequeños terrenos.

Trumble les había pedido a los hombres que escupieran dentro de los viales varias veces al día para poder mapear sus niveles de testosterona. Quería descubrir si los cazadores eran recompensados con un pico de testosterona, y así fue.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hace 20 años publicamos en este diario (EL PAÍS, 25 de febrero de 1997) un artículo sobre el reto de las demencias, especialmente la más frecuente, la producida por la enfermedad de Alzheimer. Llamábamos la atención sobre las dificultades diagnósticas y el abrumador aumento de personas afectadas por las enfermedades demenciantes. Pasaron 20 años y hemos avanzado poco en resultados, si bien se ha dado un vuelco en los esfuerzos personales y económicos dirigidos al diagnóstico, e incluso empezamos a tener posibles líneas de tratamiento en investigación. No obstante, el aumento de la esperanza de vida y el consiguiente incremento del número de personas mayores hace que el problema alcance proporciones epidémicas.…  Seguir leyendo »

A couple of generations back, two women in my family “lost their minds.” One started wandering in her 60s, the other became obsessed with dolls in her late teens. The wanderer died at home in 1945, and best I can now tell, the regressing teenager died in a sanitarium about the same year.

As a boy, I vaguely recall an occasional impolite question about one or the other woman. The answer was always delivered with a lowered voice: She lost her mind. That was it, end of conversation — she just lost her mind. Just as when it sometimes happened to other folks in town, maybe from bad well water, from poisoning, perhaps spite or sin.…  Seguir leyendo »

When a Gun Is Not a Gun

The Justice Department recently analyzed eight years of shootings by Philadelphia police officers. Its report contained two sobering statistics: Fifteen percent of those shot were unarmed; and in half of these cases, an officer reportedly misidentified a “nonthreatening object (e.g., a cellphone) or movement (e.g., tugging at the waistband)” as a weapon.

Many factors presumably contribute to such shootings, ranging from carelessness to unconscious bias to explicit racism, all of which have received considerable attention of late, and deservedly so.

But there is a lesser-known psychological phenomenon that might also explain some of these shootings. It’s called “affective realism”: the tendency of your feelings to influence what you see — not what you think you see, but the actual content of your perceptual experience.…  Seguir leyendo »

La enfermedad de Parkinson es un trastorno neurológico degenerativo que afecta a aproximadamente siete millones de personas en todo el mundo y a un millón en los Estados Unidos, generalmente mayores de 50 años. La enfermedad afecta al 2% de las personas mayores de 65 años y entre el 5% y el 10% de los casos se presentan en personas menores de 50 años. Aún se desconocen las causas, lo que nos impide detener el desarrollo de la enfermedad, aunque investigaciones recientes apuntan a factores ambientales y ocupacionales.

En textos chinos e indios de 1000 AC se describe un trastorno similar, pero fue James Parkinson quien primero describió en detalle la enfermedad en 1817.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Bright Side of Parkinson’s

Four years ago, I was told I had Parkinson’s disease, a condition that affects about one million Americans. The disease is relentlessly progressive; often starting with a tremor in one limb on one side of the body, it spreads. The patient’s muscles become more rigid, frequently leading to a stooped posture, and movements slow down and get smaller and less fluid. As the disease advances — usually over a number of years — the patient becomes more and more disabled, experiencing symptoms from constipation to sleep disorders to cognitive impairment.

Can Parkinson’s be slowed, stopped or even reversed? Can the disease be prevented before it starts, like polio and smallpox?…  Seguir leyendo »

La enfermedad de Alzheimer es con mucha diferencia la causa más común de demencia y uno de las afecciones más temidas del mundo. En 2050, habrá 135 millones de pacientes de alzhéimer, el triple que ahora, y las tres cuartas partes de los casos se darán en países de renta media o baja. La tarea de predecir el comienzo del alzhéimer –por no hablar de prevenirlo o curarlo– sigue siendo inmensa.

Hace más de un siglo que se descubrió la enfermedad de Alzheimer a partir de los resultados de autopsias que revelaban unas lesiones cerebrales características llamadas “placas amiloides”. En las personas vivas resulta más difícil de diagnosticar.…  Seguir leyendo »

A study published last week found that the brains of autistic children show abnormalities that are likely to have arisen before birth, which is consistent with a large body of previous evidence. Yet most media coverage focuses on vaccines, which do not cause autism and are given after birth. How can we help people separate real risks from false rumors?

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of studies linking autism to a wide variety of genetic and environmental factors. Putting these studies in perspective is an enormous challenge. In a database search of more than 34,000 scientific publications mentioning autism since its first description in 1943, over half have come since 2008.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Rodas, a baby-faced man in his late 20s with paranoid schizophrenia, arrived at Guatemala’s only public psychiatric hospital last year after being charged with murdering his parents. He says he often wanders freely through the sprawling facility of dilapidated one-story buildings and wooded courtyards, where detainees charged with crimes mingle with ordinary patients and the developmentally disabled.

He sees ugly things. Those who refuse their medication are beaten and put in the “little room,” a barren isolation cell, he said. Desperate women sell their bodies for as little as 5 quetzales, or less than a dollar, to afford basic necessities.…  Seguir leyendo »

When my autistic son, Nat, was about 8, we learned that he loved looking at family photos on my husband’s computer. This discovery rocked my family’s world. Before then, we did not know that Nat enjoyed our faces. He had never seemed that comfortable looking at or talking to us. Perhaps he liked the unchangeable nature of pictures, their static predictability. Or maybe the stillness of photos gave him the space to process his thoughts.

“Go there,” Nat would say, pointing at an image from my mother’s house during Passover. Once we understood that the house, our family and the holidays were things Nat liked, my son Max started taking pictures of them and we’d put them on the laptop for Nat.…  Seguir leyendo »

Asperger syndrome and Aspies — the affectionate name that people diagnosed with Asperger syndrome call themselves — seem to be everywhere.

Considered to be at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, Asperger syndrome has become more loosely defined in the past 20 years, by both the mental health profession and by lay people, and in many instances is now synonymous with social and interpersonal disabilities. But people with social disabilities are not necessarily autistic, and giving them diagnoses on the autism spectrum often does a real disservice. An expert task force appointed by the American Psychiatric Association is now looking into the possibility of changing the way we diagnose Asperger.…  Seguir leyendo »

For a brief, heady period in the history of autism spectrum diagnosis, in the late ’90s, I had Asperger syndrome.

There’s an educational video from that time, called “Understanding Asperger’s,” in which I appear. I am the affected 20-year-old in the wannabe-hipster vintage polo shirt talking about how keen his understanding of literature is and how misunderstood he was in fifth grade. The film was a research project directed by my mother, a psychology professor and Asperger specialist, and another expert in her department. It presents me as a young man living a full, meaningful life, despite his mental abnormality.

“Understanding Asperger’s” was no act of fraud.…  Seguir leyendo »

You remember how difficult it was to be one of the boys. Others were on the pitch playing football. You were somewhat clumsy and that made you avoid sports. In any case, you preferred to read by yourself. You joined the Boy Scouts. That ended disastrously when you had to overnight in a tent with three others. The close proximity gave you the creeps and constipation. Your nights went sleepless.

You found it hard to join in conversations. It always seemed you were rudely butting in. The few times you succeeded, you did not know when to stop. You could not understand why the others didn’t find the origins of the Pythagorean Theorem interesting.…  Seguir leyendo »

A panel of medical experts from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association last week proposed changes in the way doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease — including the use of so-called biomarkers, tests like PET brain scans and analyses of spinal fluids to promote early detection of the disease. Although these recommendations are well intentioned, evidence suggests that it would be a mistake to adopt them at this time. To understand why, it’s important to recognize what these tests mean, in what context the information will be used and what experience has shown us.

First, about the diagnostic tests: A PET scan detects clumps of a deformed protein called amyloid beta, commonly known as plaques.…  Seguir leyendo »

Not so very long ago I found that I (a writer, editor, mother of three, but otherwise a free agent) had volunteered to become a full-time carer for someone with Alzheimer’s: my mother-in-law, Nancy. She and her husband, Morris, came to live with us in a vast Victorian house surrounded on three sides by sea in the far, far North of Scotland.

Previously I’d thought of my “self” as something inviolable, something that was permanently me. The experience of dementia, of seeing it taking hold, undermined the remnants of faith in myself as a soul. Alzheimer’s taught me that I am a biological creature: that what we consider as self is a construction contingent entirely on health.…  Seguir leyendo »