When doctors in Detroit discovered that a patient had sent garbled text messages to his wife, such as “Oh baby your”, they suspected it could be a symptom of something more than distracted driving. They tested him with the National Institutes of Health stroke scale — even though he had no other symptoms.
His score of 2, indicating the possibility of a minor stroke, prompted a brain scan, which, in turn showed the man had suffered a mild stroke, reports The New York Times. The next day, although the man could repeat sentences accurately, he couldn’t type the sentence accurately on his phone — or detect that his message was garbled. Doctors call it dystextia.
It’s not the first known case: The Archives of Neurology reported in December that a 25-year-old pregnant woman sent garbled messages to her husband, alerting her husband to the potential problem.
These scenarios have led doctors to hypothesize that the brain may treat text messaging entirely differently than other forms of language and writing.
“It may be a new area of language that hasn’t really been explored or tested,” Dr. Omran Kaskar, a senior neurology resident at Henry Ford Hospital who treated the patient, told The New York Times. “In humans, language evolved. Is text messaging some sort of new specific language that the brain is developing?”
Considering incoherent texts as a sign of stroke could prove useful to doctors, as it did in the case in Detroit. In addition to diagnosing a patient, doctors may be able to use the time stamps from texts to determine the precise timing of a stroke’s onset.