Though it may seem counter intuitive from the layperson’s perspective, but can sound be used as a brain analysis tool?
By: Ringo Bones
It is now a well-accepted physiological fact that one of the serious side effects of brain disorders is impaired hearing. That fact was put to work by Arnold Starr and two other researchers from the University of California at Irvine, who developed a way to make use of psycho-acoustical hearing impediment to locate disorders in the brain. Would such a method prove to be a very useful new diagnostic tool - as in using sound as a brain analysis tool - to assess how healthy one’s brain is?
The procedure is begun by placing electrodes on the patient’s scalp and earlobes. A series of loud clicks is then sent in rapid succession through earphones worn by the patient. As the nerve impulse generated in the inner ear by each click travels through the brain circuitry, it is detected by a super sensitive tracking system, isolated from each other activity in the brain by a computer and recorded. The result is a graph whose peaks represent the activity level at seven critical relay points along the auditory route. If there is brain damage near a relay point, that peak will be missing. In a person of normal hearing there would be no missing peaks, therefore showing negative results for brain disorders.
The system has several advantages over other methods of diagnosis: it does not require the patient to describe what he or she hears – or even to be conscious during the procedure. But most important, says Arnold Starr, Irvine’s chief of neurology and one of the developers of the technique says that “for the first time we can get information from the depth of the brain, and with a procedure that takes about four minutes.”