Monthly Archives: February, 2011

Stuttering..the Star in “The King’s Speech”

Stuttering (or as the Brits call it, stammering) is really the star of this Academy Award-nominated movie, which has been nominated for 12 awards. It highlights a rather common malady which affects about 5% of the population. In fact, many of us have stammered at one time or another, especially during periods of stress and duress – like after being stopped by a police officer or delivering a speech for the first time!

Stammering and stuttering have the same meaning – it is a speech disorder in which the person repeats or prolongs words, syllables or phrases. The person with a stutter (or stammer) may also stop during speech and make no sound for certain syllables. To illustrate, look at this trailer from The King’s Speech“:

Stuttering is common when children are learning to speak. However, the majority of kids grow out of this stage of initial stuttering. If it persists, then it becomes a problem and professional help may be required. The commonest cause of stuttering is developmental, meaning that the speech and language skills located in one part of  the brain are not developed enough to race along at the same speed as what they want to say, which is located in another part of the brain.

It was once believed that the cause may be psychological (such as forcing a left-handed child to write with his right) but this has been dismissed by experts. In fact, the myth that stutterers have defective IQs has long been debunked.  Some other facts include:

  • half of people who stutter have close relatives who do the same.
  • children who stutter below 3.5 years old are unlikely to stutter in adulthood.
  • normal stuttering in children generally does not last more than 2 years.
  • boys are more likely to stutter than girls, by as much as 4 times.

Can stuttering be cured?  The outlook is very good, especially with speech therapy and behaviour therapy.

The popular TV series “Open All Hours” has the late Ronnie Barker using stuttering as a theme.

So, will Colin Firth win the Best Actor award? I’m going to stick my head out and say no, largely because his acting as a stutterer is rather unconvincing, IMHO. (Update: So he won the Best Actor Award anyway..but I stand by what I said)

And Now..Electronic Eyeglasses

Once in a while, wonderful blockbuster devices make their way into our lives..smartphones, iPads to name a few. And now… electronic eyeglasses are about to make its bow.

Soon to come - multifocal glasses that need charging

These glasses will be a major boon for those hitting their 40s, the time when longsightedness sets in. The usual remedy is to use bifocal lenses or no-line progressive lenses. But such glasses have a drawback: the lenses that magnify fine print also blur objects more than an arm’s length away when a wearer looks down, distorting the view when on a staircase, for example, or when swinging at a golf ball.

Enter the emPower glasses – spectacles  with an unusual insert in the bottom part of the lenses: liquid crystals, cousins to the familiar ones in LCD television displays. The crystals change how the lenses refract or bend light, just as varying levels of thickness do in traditional glasses. To call up reading power in the new glasses, users touch the side of the frame. Batteries in the frame send along a current that changes the orientation of molecules in the crystals. Touch the side of the frame again, and the reading power disappears. Turn it off to hit a golf ball; turn it on to read the scorecard.

Because they use batteries, they need to be recharged, in the same way as smartphones. Each charge lasts 2-3 days.

The glasses, made by PixelOptics in Roanoke, Virginia,USA, will be on the market in a few months.

The cost? about US$1,000 to $1,200,  including frames, lenses, coatings and charger. Not one for those who keep losing their glasses!

“This Is Your Captain Sleeping” – Yet Another Cause for Sleepy Pilots

In an infamous incident in 2008, 2 airline pilots fell asleep at the controls resulting in the plane overflying the destination. They were found later  to have suffered from OSA (see my posting at that time here ). But now it appears that in the US, a more common malady has been found that can cause pilots to be sleepy when on duty…the Crash Pad Syndrome.

Continental flight 3407, which crashed 2 years ago and killed 50, was attributed to sleep fatigue - both pilots slept in crew-rooms instead of proper beds.

Crew lounges such as this in La Guardia airport provide pilots with rest relief which may be inadequate


It turns out that most US airlines domestic pilots are quite lowly paid (I’m told USD 20,000 a year) that they cannot afford a proper hotel-room for a good night’s sleep before reporting for duty as such rooms are not provided for by their employers for a flight from home-base. ABC News a few days ago revealed that these pilots would either ‘rest’ in crew-rooms which do not have beds and are not designed for a good night’s sleep; or resort to what are called crash-pads.

The crash-pads are extremely popular and are found near busy airports where their existence is kept a secret to the public. At US$25 a night, it offers affordable accommodation especially in expensive cities like New York.

This Crash-Pad in La Guardia comprise of triple-bunk beds at $25 a night and are available 24/7

Pilots need to bring your own pillow-cases,sheets and towels as there is a rapid turnover.(ABC News)

FAA, the body which regulates US pilots, maintains at least an 8-hour mandatory rest period and a working day that should not exceed 16 hours. Sleep is recommended in  rooms which are dark,  cool in temperature, and where there is no intrusive noise. Whether these crash-pads can fulfill these criteria is doubtful and may create significant pilot fatigue. Fatigue results in a decreased ability to maintain function or workload due to mental or physical stress (like inadequate sleep). This in turn causes inability to concentrate and impaired reaction times, both essential when operating an airplane.

As a passenger, I get the shivers when I see a pilot yawning  when reporting for duty..

Washing Your Hands Often Is Itself A Disease

If you’re the type that keeps on washing your hands every few minutes because of an irrational fear of dirt and germs, then you are not alone – about 1 in 50 adults have some form of OCDobsessive-compulsive disorder. This is a condition where

  • you get awful thoughts keep on coming into your mind, even when you try to keep them out
  • you have to touch or count things or repeat the same action, like washing hands and checking that the electrical plugs are off,over and over again

We can all worry excessively about real-life problems or be obsessive about certain things at times, but if this becomes too repetitive and causes distress, then it may be time to seek treatment, even celebrities included.

OCD sufferer Megan Fox, star of Transformers, confessed to a horror of restaurant cutlery – "putting my mouth where a million other mouths have been"

Donald Trump refuses to shake hands, for fear of catching germs

David Beckham has to have the cans in the fridge in pairs and lined up

OCD is sometimes inherited, so can occasionally run in the family. Other times, it can be brought on by stress. Men and women are equally affected, usually first appearing in the teens and twenties. Diagnosis is established by a mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, and can be often confirmed, in long-standing cases by a PET scan, a special form of CT scan.

A non-invasive PET scan can indicate differences in brain activity of OCD patients versus normals

Can OCD be treated? In short,yes. Depending on the severity, either one or both behaviour therapy or medications like SSRIs. Treatment is effective for OCD  with most people being cured.

The question remains that there is a fine line between excessive worry about real-life problems and repetitive worries in OCD.  Many do not seek help, but when it becomes debilitating or even deadly, it might be that bit too late; as in the case of the lady with OCD who slept for 3 years in a car and was found dead..see here.

Excuse Me..But Are You A Real Doctor?

Looking at the number of people with the honorific prefix “Dr” before their name, its not surprising that the public is getting quite confused on what the title represents..

Apart from the Doctors of Philosophy (Ph.D) and doctorates from some branches of engineering who do not dabble in healthcare ,  the title “Dr” can lead to lots of confusion among the public. This was borne out from a recent survey by the American Heart Association which among other things concluded that patients are not sure who is – and who is not – a medical doctor.

The survey asked if the following were medical doctors:

Orthopedist/orthopedic surgeon: Yes, of course! Except it wasn’t so obvious for the 16% of respondents who said “no” or were unsure.

Chiropractor: Not a medical doctor, a fact known by 64% of those surveyed.

Dentist: a dentist is not an M.D., but 69% thought otherwise.

Physical therapist: Not an M.D., but 22% said “yes” or were unsure.

Nutritionist: Not an M.D. Also a meaningless title. Same with “food coach,” “nutritional consultant” whose qualifications can range a lot. Look for “registered dietician” to be sure that they have attained the required training.

Ophthalmologist: Yes, an M.D, though 29% said “no” or were unsure.

Optometrist: Not an M.D., though 46% thought otherwise or were unsure.

Optometrists: almost half of survey respondents thought they were medical doctors


Primary-care physician: 9% actually said a PCP wasn’t an M.D. or weren’t sure.

Nurse practitioner: Despite the fact that this job title unambiguously includes the word “nurse,” 31% thought it required an M.D. or weren’t sure. The AMA is taking steps to make sure such confusion is minimised among the public.

Australian Nurse Practioner - often mistaken as medical doctors by patients


Regarding the latter, The American Nurses Association says this is part of the AMA’s “ongoing effort to limit the scope of practice of health care providers who are not physicians” and would make it illegal for non-physicians to say anything that would lead people to believe that their education, skills or training are the same as an M.D.

Turf protection, or, public service? You decide..

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