Plasticity and The Senses: Paul Bach-y-Rita

This October 2012 update reflects new links for the videos, as PBS is no longer hosting Wired Science programs.
In December 2007 the PBS Wired Science show included a piece about Bach-y-Rita’s research: Mixed Feelings. Here are some additional videos covering some of the same content: BrainPort Vision Through Tongue, BrainPort Balance Device.

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The first time I heard of Paul Bach-y-Rita was on a public television broadcast of a special show about the brain. The story of Paul Bach-y-Rita fills the first chapter of Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself.

The stories of Bach-y-Rita – how his father recovered from a stroke and the impact this had on Bach-y-Rita’s career, the people with severe balancing issues who were essentially cured by his discoveries and innovations, and the people who had no vision who were able to begin to see – are compelling in and of themselves. They are very human stories, derived from the work of a man who was altruistically motivated.

A major contribution of Paul Bach-y-Rita’s to neuroscience was in thinking of the brain as “polysensory”, meaning that the sensory areas of the brain, rather than only processing information from just the senses that normally report to those areas, are actually able to process information from any of the senses. The stories referenced above, relating to balance and vision, rely heavily on the polysensory ability of the brain to take input from the tongue and route it to the areas of the brain dealing with balance or vision.

Amazing? Absolutely! His work is a reminder of how adaptable our brains are, and makes me wonder how many more hidden secrets are waiting to be revealed. You can read more about the science behind Bach-y-Rita’s efforts in these articles:

On Wisconsin Magazine: Balancing Act (Spring 2007)

Discover Magazine: Can You See With Your Tongue? (June 2003)

Discover Magazine: Artifical Sight (August 2001)

College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Tongue seen as portal to the brain (2001)

And on an unrelated note, F, Happy Birthday tomorrow!

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16 thoughts on “Plasticity and The Senses: Paul Bach-y-Rita

  1. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I do not know enough to make any specific recommendations. However, have you talked with the support staff at your grandson’s school, or his pediatrician?

    By the way, there have been quite a number of articles recently about the benefits of using iPads with children who have autism; there was a piece about this on the News Hour. Try this link:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/video/blog/2011/04/autism_and_the_educational_cha.html

    Here is another link to a 60 minutes report on Autism and applications:
    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7385702n

    I hope some of this information turns out to be helpful, and wish you and your grandson the best.

    Cheers, Laurie

  2. Eliza beth Struyk

    I am a grandmother of a 7 year old boy who is epileptic. The seizures are well controlled with a medication. He also has autism. I need some help for his aggressions because they are very bad. He has brain damage from his seizures.His transitions are getting worse and I worry about his futere.He can be very lovable, and then he explodes. He is in second grade in an autism class and is doinc well except for his aggressions .which is directed to adults but not to his peers.so far. I read Dr.Norman Doige’s book “The Brain That Chanes itself. It is an excellent read. Is there some way that some-one can help this child? His teacher said that he has a lot of potential and she would mainstream him if it was’nt for his aggressins

  3. Crystal

    I have read the book and it is AMAZING!!! I am truly amazed at Bach-Y-rita’s work! I am student currently taking a biological psychology class and working on a presentation and I am using Cheryl and her story for my paper and presentation. I hope this question is not offensive to anyone but anyone who suffers would you be willing to talk to me about it. My project is due monday but I have read this book way before this class and will continue reading it over and over. It is just a general interst of mine and I only hope to join the ranks of those who help people in need one day.

    crystalglochard@gmail.com

    I have provided a link that has a video with Bach-y-rita and cheryl as well as a visual study and device he designed. It gives names of rehibilitation facilities that help with this and the possiblity of marketing such devices.

    http://vertigoguy.com/?s=cheryl+Schiltz

    Thank you and best wishes to you all!

  4. synapsesensations Post author

    Hello Gene,

    I am glad you found out about Paul Bach-y-Rita’s therapy from my post. Please know I am not the author of the book, however. The book was written by Norman Doidge. I read his book and wrote this post about it.

    With that said, the following comes from the bottom of Wired Science’s web page on Mixed Feelings. Patients with balance or vision impairments (or their health care providers) should contact Wicab, Inc at wicab.com or 608.263.9359

    I hope the above information is helpful and wish your granddaughter the best.

    Regards,
    Laurie

  5. Gene Lutzi

    OUR GRANDAUGHTER,NOW 17, HAD AN AVM IN OCT. OF 208. SHE HAS BEEN STRUGELING WITH HER BALANCE FOR A BETTER PART OF A YEAR NOW. SINCE UNDER GOING TWO LIFE-SAVING BRAIN OPERATIONS IN ’08, SHE HAS BEEN IN OUT-PATIENT THEROPY.WE READ YOUR BOOK, AND I’M CERTAIN THAT YOU CAN UNDERSTAND OUR EXCITEMENT IN THE POSSIBILITY OF SOMEHOW FINDING OUT WHER WE CAN GO TO ENROLL HER IN YOUR PROGRAM. PLEASE!!! RESPOND ASAP

  6. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Janna,

    I do not know of any specific places for you to contact. However, here are some sites that might be useful, although they all reference institutions that are in the U.S.

    National Institute of Health – http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/balance/balance_disorders.asp
    Vistibular Disorder Association – http://www.vestibular.org/
    Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary – http://www.masseyeandear.org/specialties/otolaryngology/balance/

    You might also try contacting some of the people mentioned in Doidge’s book.

    Regards,
    Laurie

  7. Janna

    I have read N Doiges book and also have vestibualr balace probs and wanting to know who to contact to get the treatment!!!
    Please adise asap!

    With thanks

    Janna Young

  8. Denise W.

    Laurie,
    I got your email….I just wanted to let you know that HD is like a mix of Alzheimers and Parkensons…so that is why there are some similarities.
    However HD they say is a genetic dis-ease…so he can be tested for it.

  9. synapsesensations Post author

    Dear Denise,
    Your comment quite touched me. Alas, I am not a doctor and am not tied in to the Huntington’s Chorea network, so am unable to offer suggestions.

    I was struck by your mention of your dad’s “chewing” and other teeth issues, as my dad, who has Alzheimer’s, does the same thing. I have often wondered if my dad could have other issues going on, along with his dementia, but how would we even find this out, as he is unable to communicate.

    Happily, at least for now, it sounds like your dad is still functioning. Have you been in contact with the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (http://www.hdsa.org/)? Perhaps they can be of assistance.

    I wish you success in your attempts to help your dad.
    Sincerely,
    Laurie

  10. Denise W.

    My father was diagnosed with Huntingtons Chorea (HD). This has been several years now, and is having A LOT of movement. He also seems to be “chewing” all the time, and clicking or clenching his teeth. My father is still very mobile and can function in day to day, but my belief is it is only a matter of time before he is going to need constant care….
    Please help…I have read several books and I know there is help for him, we just havent found it yet…
    Please let me know what and if there something that could help his moving condition??
    Thanks so much

  11. c. graham

    I am looking for the name of a physician or professional who administers the balance therapy developed by Dr. Bach-Y-RitaBefore he died. Any leads or assistance will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  12. Lilly Evans

    I have just heard Dr Norman Doidge talk at Big Ideas while going through my library of podcasts at random! Really exciting and especially relevant as we face in the West for the first time the demographics where over 50s outnumber under 20s!

    I am off to brush up on my post Edelman, Damasio and Kandel readings. I only hope he writes as well as the three of them. Thank you

  13. synapsesensations Post author

    HI Selene,

    Thanks for your suggestion. In fact, I have read Norman Doidge’s book :-) and have written quite a number of posts about the content of his book. I found the stories fascinating and the book well written.

    Cheers,
    Laurie

  14. Selene

    you should read the book entitled the brain that changes by norman doidge… it has stories about paul bach y rita and others who are investigating the wonders of neurplasticity and doing their bit to help alleviate the human condition.

    it is inspiring, and it shows the wonders of modern science.

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