Stroke May Not Mean Language Loss for Newborns

Stroke May Not Mean Language Loss for Newborns

Strokes in babies may not have the same lasting effects as they do in adults, a new study suggests.

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Researchers from the Georgetown University Medical Center found that people who'd had a stroke as a newborn that damaged the left side of their brain -- the side that normally controls language -- used the other side of their brain for language.

"Their language is good -- normal," said study author Elissa Newport. She's director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown and the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

About 1 in 4,000 babies have a stroke shortly before, during or after birth, according to the researchers.

The researchers' findings came from a small study -- 12 people, aged 12 to 25, who'd had a left-brain stroke when they were newborns. All 12 used the right side of their brain for language.

The findings highlight how "plastic" brain function is in infants, according to Newport.

"Imaging shows that children up to about age 4 can process language in both sides of their brains," she said in a Georgetown news release. "Then the functions split up: The left side processes sentences and the right processes emotion in language.

"We believe there are very important constraints to where functions can be relocated," Newport added.

"There are very specific regions that take over when part of the brain is injured, depending on the particular function," she explained. "Each function -- like language or spatial skills -- has a particular region that can take over if its primary brain area is injured."

She described the finding as "a very important discovery that may have implications in the rehabilitation of adult stroke survivors."

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The study was to be presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Austin, Texas. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary because it has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny given to research published in medical journals.

More information

The National Stroke Association has more on stroke in children.


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