The Man Who Forgot How To Read

You can identify multiple skills which you do not think of relearning any longer i.e. you don’t expect to forget them anytime soon. Your ability to perform skills such as writing your name, painting, playing chess, drawing, counting and reciting alphabets, has become almost second nature; as you increasingly execute them with less consciousness often. You believe the skills are now part of you, unless injury wipes them off your memory. But, what about waking up one morning to discover that you’d forgotten how to execute any of them?

A case of a man who discovered he no longer had the ability to read, was reported on Scientific American by Daniel Barron, a psychiatry resident at Yale University.

The 63-year-old cardiology technician with the pseudonym “Mike Brennan,” who wasn’t battling any neurological disease, sat down one morning in his office with a newspaper, but discovered he could no longer execute his reading skill – he couldn’t read, no matter how long he stared at a word. He could recognize letters, but he couldn’t combine them together as words.

Mike quickly linked this to his history of smoking and hypertension. But, he couldn’t bear the difficulty for long. He therefore approached neurologists, to check what had happened, fearing that it could be stroke – the only issue was reading: there was nothing wrong with his vision, hearing and thinking.

Mike was diagnosed with “pure alexia” After an M.R.I. scan of his brain revealed a pea-sized stroke in his left inferior occipitotemporal cortex – the portion of the brain which processes visual information.

Pure alexia refers to the selective loss of reading ability in previously literate adults, following injury to the posterior left hemisphere.

Mike’s neurologist, Peter Turkeltaub, who is also the director of Georgetown University’s Cognitive Recovery Laboratory, explained to Barron, how Brennan’s case was unusual:

This particular case was unusual only because the alexia was caused by a very small stroke.

– a tiny stroke in his left inferior occipitotemporal cortex.

Read also: The Eating Habit That Wipes Out Memory And Learning

According to Barron, what made Mike’s diagnosis noteworthy was that, it was the first case that such a small stroke had caused a disorder which usually results from significant injuries. And how his case helped solved a decades-long debate on how the brain understands words.

Further Reading:
Daniel Barron. How a Curious Condition Solved a Neuroscientific Mystery - Scientific American.
- Alexia: Center for Aphasia Research and Rehabilitation, Georgetown University.
- Randi Starrfelt et al: Rehabilitation of pure alexia: A review. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation - Published online 2013 Jun 28. doi:  10.1080/09602011.2013.809661
- Carol S. Dweck et al. Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning - Academic Tenacity : Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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