Serene Branson's speech loss attributed to aphasia, not a stroke

Yesterday the internet was buzzing over the news that Serene Branson of KCBS-TV had suffered a stroke on camera. Distressing images were seen on TV as she lost the ability to speak, but nothing has yet been confirmed as to the cause of her motor neurone failure. No official report has been made but it is now thought that she did not suffer from a stroke.

She was set to report live on the Grammy awards, and despite starting brightly she was unable to form words and the broadcast was cut.

An on–the-scene paramedic examined Ms. Branson and gave her the all clear, stating that her vitals were regular and she displayed no signs of a stroke. She was taken home by a friend and reports today say she is feeling fine.

There is concern over her health though and Dr. Larry Goldstein of the Duke Stroke Centre, Durham N.C. said, “She appears to have aphasia; a problem with expressive language, and right-sided facial weakness. Although this can be caused by other conditions, it is very concerning for stroke.”

Aphasia is a degenerative illness that can occur due to damaged brain tissue around the areas responsible for language. It normally affects people after they’ve had a stroke or head trauma and is similar to the condition suffered by former boxers. It can also develop over time through brain tumours, infections or dementia.

The unfortunate Branson has been the butt of some incredibly cruel jokes and callous treatment by other web and social sites, as if suffering aphasia live on television wasn’t humiliating enough.

The general consensus, whether a stroke or not, is that Branson should have been taken to the hospital as a precaution and examined by doctors who are trained properly for the job, not dismissed as ‘ok’ by a glorified ambulance driver.

Share your thoughts about the incident by leaving a comment.

Read about other Grammy related matters such as Rihanna battling laryngitis, Aretha Franklin’s tribute, and Esperanza Spalding attacked by Bieber fans. Learn more about how singing can help stroke victims, and the robot that can help them regain mobility.

images: inquisitr.com, insidesocal.com

5 thoughts on “Serene Branson's speech loss attributed to aphasia, not a stroke

  1. My theory is that she did too much blow while partying with the stars during the pre-show. This is a clear case of coke jaw. CBS took down all of the YouTube videos, but you can still see Serene Branson’s coke habit spiral out of control thanks to my trusty flip cam! Read more about her sniffly little episode @imeanwhat http://bit.ly/f4bb3t

  2. Please do your research before posting information about any sort of disorder. Aphasia is not, as you state, a degenerative illness. It is a communication disorder that has been caused by a stroke or other brain trauma to the left side of the brain.

    The form of aphasia that may be considered “degenerative” is Primary Progressive Aphasia, which is a frontotemporal dementia.

    Also, it would be helpful if you would have listed where you received your information about aphasia. I, for instance, received my information from: http://www.aphasia.org.

  3. One theory I have developed about this occurrence, which I haven’t seen elsewhere, is what happens to certain people under stress. The part of the brain that forms thoughts can “disconnect” (again, under stress) from the part that forms speech. The person thinks they are making sense, but are not. (This happened on air a few months ago to Ian Punnett on the Coast To Coast AM radio program.)

    We have an internal ‘feedback’ mechanism that normally keeps this in synch. However, occasionally our thoughts do not track exactly with our words.

  4. I am an Australian neurologist of 15 years’ experience. Amy is right – aphasia is a symptom, not an illness. It can be due to dementia, a TIA or stroke, brain tumour or other brain condition. Of course, the time course of each of these varies greatly. I don’t think Ms Branson had a stroke, and I’m sure she doesn’t have a degenerative condition, but I am very confident she had a TIA (transient ischaemic attack). This is an episode in which the perfusion (blood flow) to part of the brain is impaired for a short time, long enough to cause dysfunction of that part of the brain, but not long enough to cause a stroke. The clues are sudden onset, transience, focal language disturbance attributable to a specific vascular territory of the brain, and associated focal weakness (eg of one side of the mouth as in Ms Branson’s case). The affected person will be fine after the episode, with no evidence of a stroke on CT or MRI scans of the brain, and may be encouraged to carry on as though nothing happened. However, it is a very serious episode that should be taken as a warning of a potential stroke. The fact that she was fine when the paramedics came and the next day should not in any way be taken as indicating the episode was not very serious and needing expert neurological investigation. Ms Branson should have an extensive workup including a full medical history looking for potential stroke risks (especially modifiable ones, such as smoking, cocaine use or blood pressure), electrocardiography, extensive blood work-up for potential causes of stroke, MRI and MR angiography of the head and neck vessels and a transesophageal echocardiogram. You can in fact tell that it was the left side of her brain that was hypoperfused, as the right side of her mouth does not move properly during the episode, and she develops a dysphasia (language disturbance), a problem due to dysfunction of the left hemisphere in most people. Given the type of dysphasia she suffered, so-called Wernicke dysphasia (fluent gibberish with normal prosody), I suspect the vessel involved is the inferior division of the left middle cerebral artery. While being investigated, and probably for an extended period, Ms Branson should be prescribed a platelet aggregation inhibitor (eg low-dose aspirin, clopidogrel or aspirin-dipyridamole) to reduce her stroke risk.

  5. You can tell it’s not a jaw problem because she becomes aphasic, not dysarthric. Aphasia is a brain problem, not a jaw problem.

    Also, the weakness is just of the right side of her mouth, not both sides.

    Cocaine is a risk factor for TIA, but there are many other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure.

    My understanding of ‘cocaine jaw’ is one of excessive jaw movements, not weakness of one side of the mouth!

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