Reporter Serene Branson has “neurologic event” on live TV

Serene Branson, a journalist for CBS2 and KCAL-9 in Los Angeles, got a little more attention than she expected from her live report after the Grammy Awards Sunday night. During the broadcast, Branson is seen garbling her speech for about 15 seconds. Here is the video, as posted on YouTube:

Branson was seen by paramedics shortly afterwards, who said that her vital signs were normal, and she was driven home by a friend. On Monday night, anchors for KCAL-9 reported that Branson had suffered from “health related problems” but that she was feeling better. They also said that she “followed up with a visit to the doctor for medical tests” and hopes to be back on the air soon.

What you are seeing in the video is called aphasia, which means difficulty speaking.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the portions of the brain that are responsible for language. Primary signs of the disorder include difficulty in expressing oneself when speaking, trouble understanding speech, and difficulty with reading and writing. Aphasia is not a disease, but a symptom of brain damage. Most commonly seen in adults who have suffered a stroke or transient ischemic attack, aphasia can also result from a brain tumor, infection, head injury, or dementia that damages the brain. Certain chronic neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or migraine, can also include transient aphasia as an early or episodic symptom. It is estimated that about 1 million people in the United States today suffer from aphasia. The type and severity of language dysfunction depends on the precise location and extent of the damaged brain tissue.

Generally, aphasia can be divided into four broad categories:

(1) Expressive aphasia involves difficulty in conveying thoughts through speech or writing. The patient knows what he wants to say, but cannot find the words he needs.

(2) Receptive aphasia involves difficulty understanding spoken or written language. The patient hears the voice or sees the print but cannot make sense of the words.

(3) Patients with anomic or amnesia aphasia, the least severe form of aphasia, have difficulty in using the correct names for particular objects, people, places, or events.

(4) Global aphasia results from severe and extensive damage to the language areas of the brain. Patients lose almost all language function, both comprehension and expression. They cannot speak or understand speech, nor can they read or write.

Is there any treatment?

In some instances, an individual will completely recover from aphasia without treatment. In most cases, however, language therapy should begin as soon as possible and be tailored to the individual needs of the patient. Rehabilitation with a speech pathologist involves extensive exercises in which patients read, write, follow directions, and repeat what they hear. Computer-aided therapy may supplement standard language therapy.
What is the prognosis?

The outcome of aphasia is difficult to predict given the wide range of variability of the condition. Generally, people who are younger or have less extensive brain damage fare better. The location of the injury is also important and is another clue to prognosis. In general, patients tend to recover skills in language comprehension more completely than those skills involving expression.

For more information about aphasia, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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