The recovery process from a traumatic brain injury is a life-long journey. Doctors will tell you that the brain will stop making improvements between the 1-2 mark. However, while the healing of the brain injury may be mostly complete, this does not mean the brain stops growing, changing, adapting or learning. The brain’s neuroplastic anatomy allows for it to continually adapt when properly challenged. This explains how a brain injured person may continue for a lifetime to make gains and to normalize behavior, executive function and emotions.
Conventional therapies such as PT, ST and OT are the catapult for the initial “acute phase” of recovery. They are immensely helpful in allowing the brain to relearn what is lost. However, at some point and time, therapy is cut off, and the acute phase of recovery ends and the chronic phase of living with TBI begins. In the pursuit of further recovery, many survivors and caregivers in the TBI world seek out, experiment with and become advocates of alternative therapies, which are never covered by insurance, and rarely given credence by doctors or therapists.
Patrick and I are advocates of alternative therapy, because we have seen their benefit, and have seen them help so many of our TBI friends. It is the wild, wild west of the medical world; a land without FDA backing, federal funding, or “conclusive data”. And yet, time and time again, we see and hear stories of the power of CBD oil, biofeedback, yoga and meditation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, craniosacral massage, acupuncture, reiki, essential oils, Bioness Walk Aide, The Music Glove, mega-doses of fish oil, turmeric cur cumin, and neurofeedback. In the holistic world, where the individual is honored over the statistic, not every therapy works for every person, making it difficult to measure success. But for those of us left to fight the battle alone, the possibe benefits of these therapies often outweigh the costs of them.
Up until recently, Patrick and I have not had much funding to explore the above options. However, we did have great results with the Music Glove, Bioness Walk Aide, turmeric, and saw tremendous healing with Brucker Biofeedback, a non-conventional medicine that helps patients with hemiparesis to strengthen the connection between brain and body. We are now experimenting with CBD oil.
Now, with our recent fundraiser we are embarking on a new quest: NeuroFeedback. We are renting a system through the Zengar corporation known as NeurOptimal for two months. Patrick has already trained 3x and I have trained 5x! It is said that most people notice a change around 6 sessions, so I am holding off writing about my experience until tomorrow. For now, let me introduce you all to Neurofeedback, and explain why it is so interesting to us.
So, what is Neurofeedback?
Basically, the brain gives off an electrical signal when it’s processing information. By placing sensors on the scalp, doctors can record the electricity and using sophisticated software, can process it. The display of that is called an EEG. (Neurofeedback is also known as Neurotherapy or Neuro EEG Biofeedback.)
There are many different type of Neurofeedback systems, but just about all of them look at the EEG in a particular way, and use that information to push, pull or drive the brain into what’s perceived to be a desired “state” so that it will run more normally. Obviously, TBI leaves the brain to function abnormally in many areas, so any therapy that claims to help optimize processing is of interest to us.
What is NeurOptimal Neurofeedback?
The NeurOptimal system was created by Dr. Valdeane Brown from the Zengar Institute in Canada. The promoters of this therapy claim that the system departs from traditional NeuroFeedback radically, by not forcing the brain into any state at all. They say that by recognizing the dynamical intelligence of the brain, you can give the brain information about what it is doing while it’s doing it, and the processes within the brain will use the information for self correction, and make a natural movement towards stability and optimal processing.
Why are we trying out NeurOptimal and not another system?
Like most things in the TBI world, I found out about this system by word-of-mouth. A caregiver friend of mine was struggling terribly with her fiancé’s TBI, which was causing such behavioral issues that aides and therapists would not come to her home and work with him. He was cursing everyone out, being violent and attacking people etc. After just 6 sessions with this system, she saw a distinct change in his behavior, and within a few more, she was able to take him out of the house for the first time in months. That peaked my interest enough to begin researching it.
As I began digesting the world of Neurofeedback and talking to advocates of the Zengar system, I began to realize that while there many who claimed NF had changed their lives, there were some whose symptoms had gotten worse. Therefore, it was possible to do damage with traditional Neurofeedback, especially if the patient had experienced a great deal of trauma in their lives. This is because trauma exists in a loop inside the brain, and is by nature self-protective. So forcing it to release can often cause it to get worse. Since Patrick had experienced a ton of trauma in his life, we went with the system with the least risk of side effects.
How does it work?
When training, we attach 3 electrodes to the right side of his head and two to the left. These plug into a z-amp, which picks up 96% of the signal from the limbic system (where trauma is housed) and processes the signal, searching for any turbulence in it. Meanwhile, Patrick listens to music passively (all other forms of NF are interactive), and can close his eyes or watch a screen with meditative visuals. When turbulence is picked up, the z-amp delivers a small pop or click in the music. We are told that this click acts as a mirror for the brain, so it can see itself as it is doing something that is interfering with optimal processing. The brain is driven to constantly re-optimize, protect itself and to survive. So, by holding up that mirror over and over again, it can use its innate intelligence to undo the trauma. Some of the clicks are audible, and some happen on the unconscious level.
Plot Twist: I am brain-training too.
I was encouraged to train myself, to address my own compassion fatigue, PTSD, anxiety and cognitive impairments due to stress. Since our blog is co-authored, I thought it would be very cool for both of us to write about our experience with the training. Because the system is not registered as a medical device, it can be sold/rented directly to the public as opposed to a clinic or doctor. Patrick and I have rented the system for 60 days, and are sharing 50 sessions between us. We train whenever we feel we should, as it is a totally driven by the gut-based instinct to know when you need to train and when you need to rest.
So there you have it. That’s the deal.
I am excited to embark on this new chapter of the journey. Whatever occurs good or nothing at all, it is a learning process for us both, and one worth taking together, if just for the knowledge itself. The wealth of information I am collecting and digesting about the universe we know as the Brain continues to deepen and broaden for me, and my interest only grows as well.
I hope you’ll come along with us on our NeuroFeedback journey.