This post will be the first of a five-part series relating to methods and treatments to help you regain your life again after a brain injury. In my book, Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, the format is set up in the following template: a vignette, an explanation of how the symptom is diagnosed, then treatments and methods for that symptom followed by practical suggestions. The treatments and methods category is subdivided into conventional, complementary and alternative treatment options, which is based on whether or not insurance will reimburse the cost. This section is not organized by the most frequent or most effective treatment because what may work for one person for a specific symptom, may not necessarily work for the next person experiencing the same symptom. For this reason, I developed my 5 Prong Approach to determine what method or methods work best for each individual person’s specific symptom(s) that are present as a result of a brain injury.
With this knowledge and information, we must emphasize again that it is your brain that has been injured. The human brain weighs about three pounds and is the most complex (an intricate network of some 200 billion nerve cells and a trillion supporting cells) of all your organs. It is nourished by a vast network of blood vessels that supply the oxygen and glucose needed to fuel the brain. Your diet, quality of sleep, degree of stress, hormonal factors, and general quality of life directly affect your brain function, impacting all bodily activity from heart rate and movement to emotion and learning. The brain’s complex components include veins, arteries, capillaries, thread-like nerve fibers, connective networks, neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, and hormones, which are involuntarily reactive to both internal and external events.
The key thing that happens when a brain injury occurs is that this deeply complex system (especially the electrical system) gets dysregulated. The goal of all the various methods and treatments is to help your brain activity become regulated again. Thus, for the brain that functions on oxygen, hormones, nutrition, as well as bio-chemical and electrical components to become regulated again, you need to address the core dysregulation, which in the majority of brain injury cases is the electrical system. This is where neurofeedback is the most effective.
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG (Electroencephalogram) biofeedback, is a technology-based learning technique that uses a computer to give information to a person about his or her own brainwave pattern in the form of EEG activity. This information is then used in order to train the person to modify his or her own brainwaves.
When the brain is not functioning properly, evidence of this usually shows up in EEG activity. EEG biofeedback assists a person to alter his or her own brainwave characteristics by challenging the brain to learn to reorganize and function better.
I was first introduced to neurofeedback in 1994 by Janet Bloom, who had studied with Dr. Margaret Ayers, one of the leading experts in the use of neurofeedback for brain injury. As a neuropsychologist, I was very skeptical of its use and effectiveness. Later, I met Dr. Paul Swingle, Ph.D, who was at McLean’s Hospital in Waltham, MA (his practice is now in Vancouver, BC). Dr. Swingle was obtaining great results with many patients who had strokes, brain surgery, and mild traumatic brain injury. In 1994, the extensive clinical trials that have been done during the past 20 years did not yet exist, nor was there the Internet to do the research. As previously mentioned, I was skeptical, yet in 1994 I was told by all my doctors I was permanently brain damaged and would never get better, so I didn’t think I had much to lose. However, I still questioned if neurofeedback could or would work. Before beginning neurfoeedback treatment I had another neuropsychological test in addition to the five prior that all showed the same results. Those results showed that in the vast majority of my brain I was functioning in the 80-99 percent range, and in the areas of deficit I was in the 6-8 percent range. In that sixth neurological test, I once again had the same results.
From there, I did 1 ½ years of neurofeedback with Dr. Paul Swingle. Upon completion, I had the neuropsychological testing repeated. The results were amazing! In the areas of deficit, I went from the 6-8 percent to the 80th percentile in all areas. This remained constant until my auto accident in 2008.
Seeing these results, I decided to get training in neurofeedback, and it is now one of the main tools I use as part of our integrative approach. What I know for a fact is that in the past 20 years, I have achieved fantastic results with over 96 percent of all my patients, like I had with my own treatment many years ago.
In part two of this five-part series, I will give a more detailed explanation of why and how neurofeedback works.