Brain Training and Health
An enormous amount of information has come out of the scientific community in the last few years about how the brain functions and how it can repair itself. The information holds great promise for everyone dealing with ADHD, mild cognitive impairment, depression and anxiety, memory loss, traumatic brain injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more.
We now know the brain is able to change and repair itself, even into old age. Neuroplasticity, as it’s called, is the brain’s ability to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences. In order to learn or memorize a fact or skill, there must be persistent functional changes in the brain that encode, or show the roadmap to, the new knowledge.
Age-Related Memory Decline
People often start to notice subtle deficits in their memories even as early as their 30s. They struggle to find the right word and have a hard time remembering the names of people they recently met.
As the years go by, less and less oxygen gets to the brain. Blood brings oxygen and the basic nutrient, glucose, at life-sustaining levels to all parts of the brain. Our brains have an amazing ability to supply extra blood preferentially to those parts in use.
Brains, like muscles, thrive on oxygen. Increasing the oxygen delivery can result in new neural connections. More neurons make for better memory just as more muscles make for better strength. By increasing the oxygenated blood flow, we can increase the oxygen level in our brain, and hence the neural connections.
Hemoencephalography – HEG for short – is a simple technique to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood flow to the brain. HEG uses the same principle as the little fingertip clip-on oximeter that reads your pulse rate or your oxygen levels in the hospital. It is clean and quick.
The frontal lobes of the brain are where the so-called executive functions reside, the activities that have to do with paying attention to details and remembering them, organizing, strategizing, and planning. A headband equipped with HEG sensors measures the level of oxygen reaching the frontal lobes. Then you learn how to increase that oxygen in the blood flowing to the brain’s frontal lobes with simple biofeedback techniques. Over the course of 6 to 8 weeks of half-hour HEG sessions, you can learn to increase the oxygenated blood flow to this area of the brain permanently. This improves brain function, and increases the speed and accuracy of decision-making.
After about half the number of sessions used for EEG-feedback training systems, people see permanent gains in brain function.
Low function of the frontal lobes has also been shown to be a factor in migraine headaches, some cases of autism, depression, post traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.
Parents are discovering that advances in brain imaging have opened up new horizons to help those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with ADHD often have under-developed neural pathways in the part of their brains that directs and focuses their attention; they are distracted by everything they see or hear. HEG neurofeedback helps them make new connections so they can stay focused on the person talking to them, for example, rather than on the cars driving on the nearby freeway – or the bunny rabbit in the front yard.
Studies have found that when a person with autism or ADHD is under stress, the blood flow decreases in the frontal area of the brain and limbic system – areas important for impulse inhibition – so that they are less able to control their impulses when under stress. That is probably not a big surprise to any parent of a child with ADHD.
Many children with ADHD don’t hear the same way others do. They hear the same sounds, but their brain has trouble making sense of what they hear. Tuning out unwanted sounds in their surroundings is often difficult. This makes it hard for them to focus and concentrate.
HEG combined with sound therapy stimulates the brain, allowing the child to process information more quickly and have better impulse control. It also retrains the brain’s ability to listen and receive auditory signals so the child can learn to focus on the desired sounds while ignoring others in their surroundings. With ADHD, the ear has shut down certain frequencies of sound. The ear muscles become unresponsive and must be stimulated to be able to tune in to the desired sound. Attention, focus, learning, and language abilities can all be improved by retraining the ear to listen and communicate with the body.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Since our brain defines who we are, the consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of our lives, including our personality. A brain injury is different from a broken leg or ruptured appendix. It won’t heal the same.
Scans can look normal, yet it is clear that something is very wrong. You have poor attention and concentration, forgetfulness, poor short-term memory, inability to understand what people say to you, slowing of neural processing, disturbed complex thinking and organization, or word substitutions and word reversals.
EEG biofeedback helps with memory loss, balance and motor skills, and cognitive issues. It works faster and better than pharmaceutical medication (anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and anti-convulsants are commonly prescribed for "post concussion syndrome"), without the unwanted side effects of the pharmaceuticals.
One of our patients, we call her "Chris," was in a roll-over car accident in April 2008. She spent 4 months at the best neurological institute in the Valley, without seeing significant improvement in her symptoms. She was unable to find her way around the city (in which she had spent her whole life). She had severe neck and back pain, unrelieved by any medications. Her neurologist gave her a fistful of prescriptions and told her to go home and wait, it would take a year and half to heal; there was nothing else to do.
She came to the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine. After the first brain training session, she asked us if people really feel better after the first session or was it her brain playing tricks on her? After three sessions, she regained her ability to find her way around the city. After ten sessions, she regained her balance, was able to drive, and help her son with his trigonometry homework.
On November 18, 2008, Chris went to meet Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the Harvard brain researcher who recently suffered a stroke. Dr. Taylor was amazed, said she could not believe how well "Chris" was doing just after a couple of months. It took Dr. Taylor eight years to fully recover from her stroke. Our patient’s ability to drive, work, think and function has been completely restored.
It is not uncommon after a brain injury to experience a feeling that you are a "different person." Dr. Taylor shared that the day of stroke, the person known as Jill died and someone else was reborn. "Chris" was also struggling with some degree of personality change after the brain injury. It has been our experience that when the brain is given the ability to repair itself, people sometimes shift how they view the world. They are liberated from having to function in the old ways, and are given the opportunity to see themselves, and their relationships with others, in a new way. This can require some adjustment.
Depression and Anxiety
Traditional cognitive/behavioral therapy – "let's sit on the couch and talk" – is a long process that often includes antidepressants, anticonvulsants, stimulants, and other mind-changing pharmaceuticals. If you or a loved one has experienced depression or anxiety, you know that symptoms typically continue despite the drugs. In fact, the definition of successful pharmaceutical therapy is "relief of at least 50% of symptoms" – not "cure."
At the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, we first like to rule out medical causes such as food allergies, heavy metals, fatty acid imbalances or hormone imbalances which can inhibit neural functions. Then we look at neural function within the brain. With depression, sometimes the brain doesn't work very well because some wires are crossed or the connections are poor – too much static.
With EEG and HEG biofeedback, we can realign the neural connections, reopen neural pathways (think: rebooting your brain.) It can change the color of life from gray to sunny yellow. By speeding up brain processing, information can be absorbed more quickly and accurately. Anxiety is relieved, because the sensory input is no longer so overwhelming that you just want to shut down and pull the covers over your head. Life can become interesting again, instead of merely overwhelming.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common disorder seen in war veterans. Soldiers have lived with constant fear of death and have witnessed unspeakable things on the battlefield. Some of them come out of the battlefield relatively unscathed. Others are so severely traumatized, it can take years to recover. But PTSD can also affect those who have experienced violent personal assaults, natural disasters, and accidents. Some people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal. Others may have no memory at all of the experience, because they were so young – or so overwhelmed – that the entire experience went directly from their amygdala to their autonomic nervous system and back to their bodies, completely bypassing the cortex.
With EEG and HEG biofeedback, we can help these people release those long stored memories – whether from their bodies or simply from their neural pathways – so that the memories can be processed completely. In this way, the scarring is released, and the person is freed to simply react to whatever challenge they are currently facing – rather than having to deal with the whole original traumatic episode as well.
Schedule a free 15-minute phone appointment to discuss the program.