After a 45-year-old man suffered a stroke, it came as even more of shock when he developed a mysterious and extremely rare neurological syndrome that would cause him to feel and taste colours and sounds.
The condition is called synesthesia.
It’s described in a press release from the hospital where the man was treated as “… a neurological condition in which people experience more than one sense at the same time,” meaning that the patient may “‘see’ words or numbers as colours, hear sounds in response to smells or feel something in response to sight.”
The man developed the strange sensations about 12 months after his stroke. In a brain scan, specific colours will light up not only visual areas, but areas of the brain responsible for other senses and emotional information. His story was reported July 30 in the journal Neurology by Dr. Tom Schweizer, of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Here are some of the symptoms listed in the report:
- A shade of blue caused a strong feeling of disgust.
- Yellow also made him feel disgust, but not as strongly.
- Raspberries, which he had never eaten often, tasted like blue and he couldn’t stop eating them.
- Blue tasted like raspberries.
- The brass theme from James Bond movies caused ecstasy and flashes of the colour light blue to appear in his peripheral vision.
- Music played by a tenor-pitched brass instrument called the euphonium turned off those feelings.
Some people just seem to develop correlations between different senses while their brains are being put together — they are born synesthestes. This middle-aged man is only the second patient to develop synesthesia after a brain injury.
In both patients, the stroke happened in the brain’s central relay station known as the thalamus. Doctors think the man in the most recent brain injury case developed the condition as his brain tried to rewire itself after the stroke.
The anonymous patient described his experiences shopping. If the colour of the label on a package of chicken was the wrong colour, he would be automatically disgusted by it.
The researchers used the patient’s mixed reactions to the James Bond theme and a euphonium piece to compare how his brain was working, to the workings of similarly aged men with similar backgrounds.
“The areas of the brain that lit up when he heard the James Bond Theme are completely different from the areas we would expect to see light up when people listen to music,” Schweizer said in a press release. “Huge areas on both sides of the brain were activated that were not activated when he listened to other music or other auditory stimuli and were not activated in the control group.”
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