Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Audible Seizures

Chris Chafe and a student
examining readouts of brain
activity. Photo by Linda Cicero

I have a piece in the May issue of Discover describing a device that converts EEG readings into sound, which is much easier to interpret than the cryptic visual EEG scrolls that even many neurologists can't properly read. Stanford inventors Josef Parvizi and Chris Chafe call the device a "brain stethoscope" because users can move its sensors around a patient's head to listen for seizure activity in all the key parts of the brain. It is a rough-and-ready tool for distinguishing non-convulsive seizures--which can present quite subtly--from other neurological or psychological conditions. The inventors hope that parents and other care takers of epilepsy patients will even be able to use it at home. The most interesting part of the Discover package is an audio piece that Molly Bentley and I produced; it is a narrative voice-over of one of the "seizure cantatas" recorded with the device. Josef Parvizi describes the onset, peak, and postictal phases of the event in a way that listeners can feel as well as understand. I find the recording upsetting, but also quite beautiful.

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