Thursday, March 31, 2022

What Is Aphasia? by Swathi Kiran


Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects someone’s ability to speak or understand speech. It also impacts how they understand written words and their ability to read and to write.

It is important to note that aphasia can take different forms. Some people with aphasia only have difficulty understanding language – a result of damage to the temporal lobe, which governs how sound and language are processed in the brain. Others only have difficulty with speaking – indicating damage to the frontal lobe. A loss of both speaking and comprehension of language would suggest damage to both the large temporal lobe and frontal lobe.

Almost everyone with aphasia struggles when trying to come up with the names of things they know but can’t find the name for. And because of that, they have trouble using words in sentences. It also affects the ability of those with the condition to read and write.

What causes aphasia?

In most cases, aphasia results from a stroke or hemorrhage in the brain. It can also be caused by damage to the brain from impact injury such as a car accident. Brain tumors can also result in aphasia.

There is also a separate form of the condition called primary progressive aphasia. This starts off with mild symptoms but gets worse over time. The medical community doesn’t know what causes primary progressive aphasia. We know that it affects the same brain regions as in cases where aphasia results from a stroke or hemorrhage, but the onset of symptoms follow a different trajectory.

How many people does it affect?

Aphasia is unfortunately quite common. Approximately one-third of all stroke survivors suffer from it. In the U.S., around 2 million people have aphasia and around 225,000 Americans are diagnosed every year. Right now, we don’t know what proportion of people with aphasia have the primary progressive form of the condition.

There is no gender difference in terms of who suffers from aphasia. But people at higher risk of stroke – so those with cardiovascular disabilities and diabetes – are more at risk. This also means that minority groups are more at risk, simply because of the existing health disparities in the U.S.

Aphasia can occur at any age. It is usually people over the age of 65 simply because they have a higher risk of stroke. But young people and even babies can develop the condition.

How is it diagnosed?

When people have aphasia after stroke or hemorrhage, the diagnosis is made by a neurologist. In these cases, patients will have displayed a sudden onset of the disorder – there will be a huge drop in their ability to speak or communicate.

With primary progressive aphasia, it is harder to diagnose. Unlike in cases of stroke, the onset will be very mild at first – people will slowly forget the names of people or of objects. Similarly, difficulty in understanding what people are saying will be gradual. But it is these changes that trigger diagnosis.

What is the prognosis in both forms of aphasia?

People with aphasia resulting from stroke or hemorrhage will recover over time. How fast and how much depends on the extent of damage to the brain, and what therapy they receive. Primary progressive aphasia is degenerative – the patient will deteriorate over time, although the rate of deterioration can be slowed.

Are there any treatments?

The encouraging thing is that aphasia is treatable. In the non-progressive form, consistent therapy will result in recovery of speech and understanding. One-on-one repetition exercises can help those with the condition regain speech. But the road can be long, and it depends on the extent of damage to the brain.

With primary progressive aphasia, symptoms of speech and language decline will get worse over time. But the clinical evidence is unambiguous: Rehabilitation can help stroke survivors regain speech and the understanding of language and can slow symptoms in cases of primary progressive aphasia.

Clinical trial of certain types of drugs are under way but in the early stages. There do not appear to be any miracle drugs. But for now, speech rehabilitation therapy is the most common treatment.

The Conversation, Swathi Kiran, Professor of Neurorehabilitation, Boston University

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Financial Documents: Create a Paper Trail for Your Heirs by Kevin Brasler


Online banking is incredibly convenient (goodbye writing checks and hunting for stamps!). And paperless statements reduce waste. But these improvements can lead to an enormous challenge for your heirs: locating all your assets after you die.

Tracking down a decedent’s assets has always required some detective work. Before the digital era, heirs had to look through files and check mail. Now, when there’s no paper trail, sleuthing is considerably more difficult. “It’s a huge problem; it happens all the time,” said Jeffrey D. Katz, an attorney who specializes in estate law. “And what’s really frustrating is that it’s a completely avoidable problem.” If you don’t document your financial affairs, your heirs will have to pay professionals to hunt for them or, in some cases, assets will neither be found nor allocated.

Searching for assets using a Social Security number seems like a simple option; after all, you need to provide one to open just about any type of account. But although the executor of an estate can ask individual banks and other institutions to search for accounts, and can check for property records and unclaimed assets with local and state governments, there’s no national database logging everyone’s info.

The website ties together states’ unclaimed property databases and might help you identify accounts and unclaimed property owned by you or a predecessor. But banks, financial institutions, and other companies often are slow to report dormant accounts to these registries.

Fortunately, finding a financial asset is easy if it paid interest or dividends; that income was reported to the IRS, which can provide executors with transcripts of tax returns that include sources of earnings. But if you hold a long-term CD, bond, stock shares, or other assets that don’t pay interest or dividends, and you haven’t realized any gains and won’t for some time, they won’t be listed on past tax returns and heirs may not learn about their existence.

Checking mail and email for statements is also an option. But some types of investments don’t send them. And sometimes accounts get set up to hide assets, either for privacy concerns or to avoid taxes. Cryptocurrency holdings present an enormous problem for many estate attorneys and executors—the internet is awash in tales of families that inherited crypto worth millions or even billions of dollars but can’t access it because they don’t have the passkeys to unlock their digital vaults.

Another reason to document what you have is to reduce the risk of theft. Katz warned that sometimes assets go missing immediately after a death, and that unsecured or unknown possessions are the most susceptible. Katz urged that “the key is communication and to do this work now, while you’re healthy. Often mom and dad made a plan but remained tight-lipped about it. Then, later on when things change, it’s too late to tell their kids how to find everything.”

To prevent this mess, make a list of what you have; the checklist below tells you what to include. For financial services, list only institutions where you have accounts and the types; don’t include account numbers, user IDs, or passwords. As we’ve previously reported, many investment and retirement firms offer their accountholders shockingly weak protections from fraud and theft. If you share your passwords to these types of accounts, even with a trusted attorney or heir, that could disqualify you from getting reimbursed if a theft occurs.

If you’re married, unless you make other arrangements, most of your assets immediately transfer to your spouse. If you’re unmarried, instruct financial institutions to make any savings, checking, or investment accounts transferable upon your death to your named chosen heirs. This is an easy task that will eliminate a lengthy wait for probate.

Click here for our full list of estate-planning dos and don’ts.

What to Include on Your Financial Roadmap

Give copies of your end-of-life documents—will, durable power of attorney, healthcare choices, living will, medical info release—to your estate’s executor, attorney, primary heir(s), and a few close friends. To help them unravel your finances, maintain (and update, as necessary) a list of your major assets and the names of financial institutions where you have accounts—but don’t share any user IDs and passwords. Your roadmap should include:

Contact Information

·       Immediate family members and heirs; your choice of guardians for children; attorneys, accountants, and executor

Personal Preferences

·       Funeral preferences

·       What happens to pets

·       Legal Document Locations

·       Will and Trust

·       Tax returns for at least five years

·       Birth certificates for you and any children

·       Death certificates of any immediate family

·       Marriage certificates

·       Divorce decrees

·       Adoption paperwork

·       Legal documents

·       Vehicle titles

·       Business contracts

Financial Institutions Where You Have Accounts
List names and types of accounts for:

·       Credit card accounts

·       Bank accounts

·       Investment accounts

·       Locations of safe deposit boxes and keys

·       Combination to safe

·       Savings bonds or other investment certificates

·       Mortgages and home equity loans

·       Vehicle loans

·       Personal loan arrangements you’ve made

·       Pensions and retirement accounts

·       Flexible spending accounts (FSAs)

·       Accounts enrolled in autopay arrangements (utility bills, cell phone, etc.)

Insurance Policies

·       Health insurance policies

·       Life insurance and annuity policies

·       Long-term care insurance policies

·       Home and auto policies


·       Master password for password management software (make sure recipients carefully safeguard this)

·       Passwords to social media accounts and instructions on what to do with them

·       Passwords to phone, computer, and other devices

·       Cloud storage accounts and passwords

Physical Property

·       List items worth more than $500 (jewelry, cars, electronics, antiques, artwork, collectibles); if you want someone to inherit a specific item or asset, make sure your will indicates that wish


Consumer’s Checkbook

Financial Documents: Create a Paper Trail for Your Heirs - Chicago Consumers' Checkbook


Friday, March 25, 2022

"Take a deep dive into the world of these surprisingly brainy, aerodynamic, nut-crazed critters" by Katherine J. Wu


There are a lot of weird squirrel stories floating around out there. These nut-crazed little critters have been spotted canoodling car engines and casually snacking on discarded egg rolls. There’s little squirrels won’t sink their teeth into—and their taste for electrical wiring has infamously triggered citywide power outages. Squirrels have even sparked an international rivalry through the color of their fur alone: For years, five North American towns have been vying to be hailed as the “White Squirrel Capital of the World” (the title is supposedly held by Olney, Illinois). But that shortlist of shenanigans is just the tip of the bushy-tailed iceberg. Here are six stupendous snippets of squirrel science to help you celebrate squirrels today and every day.

1. Tree squirrels might give investment bankers a run for their money.

The moment a squirrel first encounters a tasty morsel of food, it has to make an important decision: Is it better to eat this now, or will it be more valuable in the future? A lot goes into answering that question, says Amanda Robin, who studies squirrel behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Depending on the season, food might be scarce, making the prospect of a little nosh extra appealing. The nut itself could be highly perishable, and not worth a laborious dig. Or there could be lurkers nearby, waiting to poach a hastily buried treat. Many squirrel species make a ritual out of hoarding snacks—not unlike us humans. These rodents may not be ticking items off a grocery list or stashing leftovers in a refrigerator, but their food-storing strategies are no less sophisticated.

Recent work from a research group led by Lucia Jacobs, a behavioral biologist and squirrel expert at the University of California, has shown that fox squirrels (Sciurus niger), arboreal squirrels native to the eastern half of North America, will cache anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 nuts each year. And the stockpiling isn’t done willy-nilly: The squirrels meticulously categorize their treats by source, variety, quality, and even preference as they bury them in various locales.

“Even if you give squirrels a random series of nuts, they will put the almonds here, but the hazelnuts there,” Jacobs says. This technique, called “chunking,” essentially bins important bits of information into manageable blocks, and is thought to help squirrels keep track of their yearly inventory. It’s the same mnemonic device that makes a phone number easier to remember when it’s written out as 867-5309 rather than 8675309.

And that’s only part of the squirrel sorting scheme: When they chance upon larger, more valuable nuts, squirrels will also venture farther from foraging sites before settling down to dig. The idea is that more far-flung locales might be tougher for competitor squirrels to find and pillage. Jacobs likens the process to investment banking, with each new find triggering a fresh round of caching calculus. The more precious a food item, the more important it is to stow it away with care. In other words: have nut, will travel. “These are economic decisions,” Jacobs says. “They just want to minimize that risk-return ratio.”

2. With so many nuts to keep track of, squirrels need astoundingly good memories—and oh, do they deliver.

Once a squirrel learns a trick, it won’t hesitate to use it again and again. It’s a lesson learned the hard way by certain homeowners, who pray in vain that the next screen door or bird feeder won’t be torn to shreds.

In 2017, Pizza Ka Yee Chow, a squirrel researcher at Hokkaido University in Japan, put this mental longevity to the test with a group (or scurry) of eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), which are native to the eastern half of the United States and southeastern pockets of Canada. Chow presented her squirrels with a tricky task: pressing levers to access big, juicy hazelnuts. The critters quickly finagled their way through, and Chow took the puzzle away. But even after nearly two years had passed, the same squirrels, which hadn’t seen the contraption in the interim, still knew how to nab the nuts.

They even proved handy when offered a modified puzzle that also relied on levers, but looked completely different. After a brief moment of hesitation, the squirrels realized that even with this new challenge, the same logic applied. Considering that 10 years old is a ripe old age for your garden-variety tree squirrel, a 22-month memory ain’t too shabby. “Their memory is just excellent,” Chow says. “It’s really amazing.”

3. Squirrels are marvelously mischievous.

Stop a dog on the street, and chances are it has a bone to pick with a squirrel. These critters are known to tease and deceive—and their penchant for mischief truly knows no bounds. Many of Chow’s experiments have been at least partially foiled by roving bands of squirrel saboteurs. “They’ve bitten off the screws and nails on our puzzle boxes,” she says. “And they’ve destroyed some of our cameras: They’ll bite off all the buttons… and then I have to use a pencil to get at the start and stop record buttons.” And, Chow adds, as the squirrels fiddle with the equipment, they end up taking a lot of selfies. That last one sounds funny—but those glamour shots can get in the way of recording real data.

Even amongst their own kind, squirrels are master manipulators. When eastern gray squirrels forage in the presence of others, they’ll sometimes engage in what’s called deceptive caching: If it senses a hungry interloper, a squirrel will fake the act of burying a seed, all the while keeping the true prize tucked away in its mouth. A squirrel can get pretty elaborate with the ruse, making a big show of packing the hole with soil and leaf material, before bounding off to deposit the actual seed elsewhere. The second squirrel, of course, raids the decoy only to be disappointed. “Up until the point where we found it in squirrels, this kind of tactical deception was thought to only occur in primates,” says Michael Steele, an evolutionary biologist and squirrel expert at Wilkes University. “To discover it in [what people consider] a lowly rodent was pretty exciting.”

According to Chow, squirrels are so clever that, in theory, we could probably get these tiny titans of trickery to use their powers for good (à la these trained crows that are solving France’s litter problem one theme park at a time). But that doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be seeing recycling rodents in our near future. “They’re so impatient,” Chow says with a laugh. “They’re just like, ‘Give me the nuts!!’”

4. Squirrel speak is all kinds of complicated.

Squirrel chatter might sound like a blur of nonsense, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Within that fast-paced gobbledygook is actually an intricate repertoire of vocalizations that—depending on the species—might involve anything from come-hither calls to signaling the presence of a predator.

Even arboreal squirrels, which tend to be fairly solitary creatures, will still raise the alarm when threatened by a passing hawk or a particularly ornery dog. And many of these sounds have impossibly delightful, onomatopoeic names: The “kuk” is short, low, and repetitive—the standard scolding you’d get from a disgruntled squirrel that’s recently been driven up a tree. The “quaa” is higher and more protracted, while the third sound, the moan, is even shriller and more ululating.

And it seems squirrel body language is just as important. These rodents’ fluffiest appendages often offer the most tell-tail signs of danger. Two common tail movements are the twitch—which looks something like a shudder—and the flag, which engages the tail in a rhythmic whipping motion, almost like a revolving dough hook. Combined with a stern flick of the tail, a reproachful chitter from a squirrel might portend the approach of one type of predator over another. Scientists are still hard at work deciphering the squirrelly code—but while some progress has been made, much of the jargon has proved a tough nut to crack. Say quaat?

5. Squirrel sashays and shimmies could someday inspire new-and-improved search and rescue technology.

Though not all squirrels are entirely aerodynamic, for those that live amongst the trees, their day-to-day movements can put the best Cirque du Soleil shows to shame. “They’re so agile, leaping from tree to tree,” Chow says. “They’re like little monkeys.” Chow recalls seeing a tree squirrel on one of her first trips to England and being struck by its agility and flexibility. “The squirrel was very goal-oriented,” she says. “It made me want to understand how they maneuver in this world.”

They may pale in comparison to their flying squirrel relatives, but even tree squirrels are equipped with extraordinary anatomical adaptations that enable them to clear ten-foot gaps between branches and stabilize on uneven surfaces. Gray squirrels’ hind legs, for instance, are exceptionally powerful, packed with muscles that can propel their light bodies forward over large distances. They’re also equipped with hyper-mobile ankles, allowing them to rotate their paws and grip onto surfaces in nearly any orientation. “Their ability to navigate through trees and balance so well is kind of a superpower,” Robin, the UCLA researcher, says. “At least, it’s one that I don’t have.”

These aerodynamic feats are reason enough to give squirrels their due. But a team of researchers led by Robert Full at the University of California, Berkeley is putting their appreciation to work in pursuit of even loftier goals. By studying how squirrels move through space, Full and his colleagues are figuring out how to build bio-inspired robots that might power the search and rescue operations of the future.

                                             A Squirrel I Call Rocky

6. Sometimes, it seems like squirrels are everywhere. You’re not wrong (unless you’re in Antarctica).

To date, there have been nearly 300 species of squirrels discovered worldwide. And these globe-trotting goobers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the aptly named African pygmy squirrel (Myosciurus pumilio), which runs just five inches from nose to tail, to the glorious, technicolor Malabar giant squirrel (Ratufa indica), whose three-foot-long body can be seen soaring through the lush green canopies of Indian forests.

These raucous rodents are native to every continent, with the notable exceptions of Antarctica and Australia (though due to the deliberate introduction of two species in the late 19th and early 20th century, the outback is technically no longer squirrel-free). But travel far back enough along the squirrel family tree, and you’ll find that squirrels appear to have originated in just one place: North America. “They evolved here—they’re ours,” Jacobs, the UC Berkeley behavioral biologist, says. “Then they spread all over the world.”

For better or worse, squirrels are here to stay. You don’t get to be one of the most successful invasive species on the planet without some serious know-how… or without stepping on a few toes along the way. At the end of the day, though, whether squirrels have wriggled their way into your bird feeder or your heart, they’re worthy of respect—grudging though it might sometimes be.

-Katherine J. Wu

“Six Stupendous Reasons to Appreciate the Heck Out of Squirrels: Take a deep dive into the world of these surprisingly brainy, aerodynamic, nut-crazed critters”



                                             My Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Three Morons Questioning Ketanji Brown Jackson


“…Instead of being about the court, or even Jackson, Republicans are using the current hearings as free campaign ads to push their kultur kampf narratives. The focus on imaginary kids is intended to spark moral panic in conservative, middle-class white parents — a brazen appeal to the base.

“This highly cynical strategy is hardly new, but it has found fearsome purchase in the Trumpified Republican Party, co-constituted by well-funded right-wing think tanks, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and organized and disorganized white supremacists, represented by craven bad-faith and rabid true-believer politicians.

“In other words, the obscene questioning of Jackson — nodding to extremists, devoid of any attachment to reality, aimed only at stockpiling power exclusively for the same old, sad sack white men — is the bread and butter of today’s Republican Party.

“That the Republican Party has placed these imaginary white children at its ideological center would be disturbing enough as just a naked political ploy. That there are living, breathing children — often nonwhite and non-cis — who become the victims of this focus pushes it into the realm of the calamitous.

“Consider the hundreds of bills moving swiftly through Republican-led statehouses aiming to make the lives of trans children unlivable; the increasing use of ‘grooming’ as a buzzword to describe those adults who would affirm and support trans kids; the abundant successful local legislation that bans teaching the realities of racism and thus ensures that the white supremacist status quo continues; and, of course, the successful attacks on our reproductive rights in the name of nonexistent babies…”

-Natasha Lennard, The Intercept