◆ En Route to #ASHA15

Traveling is always an interesting way to observe both how we communicate with one another, and how stress can impact communication. It can also remind you just how bizarre it can be to interact in worlds we consider familiar.

After arriving to the airport this morning, I found myself standing in line for security in front of an unusual man wearing sunglasses. He was friendly to a fault, and started talking to me despite my not having made eye contact, or even offering a 'good morning'. He wore dark sunglasses, slicked back hair, and carried a bag containing a suit jacket. Instead of a greeting, he said "I only need to show my boarding pass, right?"

We carried on in silence for a while, in part because when I travel, I like to retreat into my thoughts more than interact. Perhaps it's a means to handle the sheer number of people, though perhaps it's also because I hadn't yet had any coffee, so I wasn't feeling terribly social.

After a few minutes, he broke the silence again. "They don't have dog sniffers in Phoneix, do they?"

Setting aside the unusual turns this conversation took, I found myself thinking about my patients. How doe they handle these situations? Do my patients with aphasia try to talk when they travel, and if so, what sort of reception do they receive? What can I do to maximize their success in such situations, even in the early stages of therapy? It's so easy to take such "simple" communciation for granted.

This is a reminder to me that communication, and indeed language, are not simpley words and turns taken. It's the setting, the body language, the mental state of the people you're trying to interact with. It's the events that lead up to your arrival, and also to everyone else's arrival. It's the lights, the sounds, the smells, the stress.

I am on my way to the annual convention to meet my friends and colleagues, and to learn new things. I always look forward to this, and am excited for the advneture ahead.

Posted on November 11, 2015 and filed under ASHA, continuing education.

◆ It's Conference Time Again!

The annual ASHA Convention is coming up in one week, so I’m gearing myself up for traveling, seeing some fantastic colleagues, and learning as much as I can. It hasn’t been long since I last attended a conference, and I’m looking forward to taking the lessons I learned there and bringing them to #ASHA15. The ASHA Convention is, by my rough estimation, just shy of ten times as large as the more intimate ASHA Healthcare and Business Institute (this estimation includes this year’s combination with ASHA Schools). While I think I prefer the intimacy of the smaller conference, I am nonetheless very excited for the convention ahead.

A little prep work can go a long way to ease the stress of such an enormous event. Here’s some things I’m doing this year differently than I have in years past, which I anticipate will make for a smoother and more productive experience.

  1. As I did for the Healthcare and Business Institute, I took the day off Wednesday so I could fly in earlier in the day. The extra time to check in to my hotel, unpack a bit, and explore the area has a huge impact on the experience as a whole. When you have three solid days of learning ahead of you, be good to yourself and don’t start the experience off with so much rushing.

  2. Though I will be tweeting throughout the convention, I will not be live-tweeting my sessions. I also won’t be typing notes on any of my various devices. I love my technology, for sure, but I found such a significant difference in what I took away from my sessions by writing my notes by hand that I will be doing so again. I may write a tweet here and there, for various powerful points during sessions. As always, you can find me tweeting @ProjectSLP.

  3. I have been planning my sessions ahead of time, and giving myself a few options for back-ups if I need. This alone reduces the stress of trying to figure out where to go, freeing up cognitive resources to better attend to what I’m trying to learn. It also has the benefit of making it easier to meet new colleagues along the way.

  4. I’m bringing a small backpack to carry around my convention program, my notebook, some pens, a water bottle, and snacks. I purposely keep the bag small to help keep me from acquiring too many things along the way. The exhibit hall is a wonderful place to visit but the number of papers and freebies really can add up. By making sure I have limited space, I only acquire things I know I will find useful, and it has the added benefit of keeping things simple. As the saying goes, less is more.

Also, if you want to come visit all the #SLPeeps from the internet, do consider joining in at the “unofficial” (non-ASHA-affiliated) tweet-up.

Posted on November 5, 2015 and filed under ASHA, continuing education.

Movement and the Brain ⇒

A very interesting case study came out recently, looking at the neurological function of a particularly active 93-year-old woman named Olga Kotelko (she died in 2014 at age 95) . She became an athlete in her sixties playing softball, then started track and field at age 77. Exercise benefits are often assumed to apply to our physical state, and it also seems to be associated more and more with good mental health. This study took things a step further and looked at her overall brain function to see if her routine exercise had any impact on both the brain itself as well as cognition.

“In general, the brain shrinks with age,” [University of Illinois Beckman Institute postdoctoral researcher Agnieszka] Burzynska said. Fluid-filled spaces appear between the brain and the skull, and the ventricles enlarge, she said.

“The cortex, the outermost layer of cells where all of our thinking takes place, that also gets thinner,” she said. White matter tracts, which carry nerve signals between brain regions, tend to lose their structural and functional integrity over time. And the hippocampus, which is important to memory, usually shrinks with age, Burzynska said.

Previous studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can enhance cognition and boost brain function in older adults, and can even increase the volume of specific brain regions like the hippocampus, Kramer said.

Kotelko’s brain offered some intriguing first clues about the potentially beneficial effects of her active lifestyle.

Though it wasn't strongly emphasized in the article, something else really grabbed my attention:

“During dinner after the long day of testing, I asked Olga if she was tired, and she replied, ‘I rarely get tired,’” [Beckman Institute director Art] Kramer said. “The decades-younger graduate students who tested her, however, looked exhausted.”

It really does seem that our culture has a problem with sleep. I'm as guilty of not getting enough sleep as anyone. I have a bad habit of getting only around 6-7 hours of sleep per night. I blame the amount of things I have on my plate at any given time for this, but the likelier truth is that if I would get enough rest, I could probably manage all of these things with greater efficiency.

In any case, one of my goals since transitioning settings has been to both increase the amount of sleep I get and also start to exercise more. Forming new habits is hard, but watching Olga herself on video shows that it's clearly worth it.

Posted on September 12, 2015 and filed under cognition, research, links.

Farewell, Oliver Sacks ⇒

Oliver Sacks, famous writer and neurologist, has died. From his website:

Oliver Sacks died early this morning at his home in Greenwich Village, surrounded by his close friends and family. He was 82. He spent his final days doing what he loved—playing the piano, writing to friends, swimming, enjoying smoked salmon, and completing several articles. His final thoughts were of gratitude for a life well lived and the privilege of working with his patients at various hospitals and residences including the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Bronx and in Queens, New York.

It's interesting to read his thoughts on life and death, as well as cancer. Cancer has had a profound impact on my family this year. Knowing that death is approaching is a strange feeling, especially for someone you love. The biggest challenge, I think, is keeping perspective, which Oliver Sacks always did well. From his New York Times op-ed in February 2015, when he revealed his terminal cancer diagnosis:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

That fear can be both for the person with cancer and for their loved ones. These words are helpful even for those who survive their loved one, and I hold them close to me always.

Rest in peace, Oliver Sacks. Thank you, for everything.

Posted on August 30, 2015 and filed under links, neuro.