Ahh, the holidays! Time for many to celebrate their faith. Time for others to reflect on the accomplishments of yet another year gone by, and to plan for an even better one ahead. Time to be with family, give thanks, serve others, and enjoy a break from the normal routines of life. Right???
In a perfect world, yes. Although, the stark reality for so many is that the holidays bring on an increasingly high level of undue stress for more reasons than there are days in the holiday season. Financial struggles, health concerns, passing of a loved one, work deadlines, shopping, travel, crowds, and family squabbles are but a few that can spark fear, worry, sadness, anxiety, and depression in just about anyone; if they are not prepared for it.
Add to this the profound increase in calorie intake (particularly sugars), sedentary behavior, late nights and poor sleep, excessive alcohol intake, travel fatigue, decreased physical activity levels, and a general lack of attention to one’s health this time of year, and you have a perfect recipe for both simple and deadly mental and physical health problems.
While suicide increase during the holidays has largely been proven a myth, there are direct correlations between increased mental and physical stress around the holidays leading to exacerbation of depression and other mental health disorders, and a resultant spike in the number of calls to suicide prevention and substance abuse hotlines. It can be theorized that many around the holidays are thankfully unable to act on suicidal thoughts give the increased presence of friends and family, although self-medication through increased drug and alcohol use over the holidays can certainly lead to worse outcomes after the new year for many.
While this is a piece on stress around the holidays, the importance of physical health (which is directly impacted by stress) needs to be considered briefly. As an example, the journal Circulation published research in 2004 showing nationwide trends in heart attacks increasing by 5% during the holidays, with peak incidences occurring on both Christmas and New Year’s Day. Coincidence??? Certainly not. An editorial in the same edition of this journal discussed further the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and the “Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon – related to increased mental and physical stressors this time of year.
With the gloomy realities and statistics behind us, we can now focus on what is most important – what can we do to prevent or minimize the fallout of the holiday season to ensure we may enjoy it to the fullest, and so that we may proceed with peace of mind, good health, and longevity into the year ahead?
- Drink responsibly. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink every 2 hours in social situations, with water in between to avoid intoxication and dehydration – your brain will thank you!
- Walk away. Don’t feel you must change anyone’s mind about politics, sports, or anything else for that matter. Engage in positive dialogue.
- Reach out. If something is deeply upsetting you, sometimes the worst thing to do is hold it in while everyone else is celebrating. Confide in a trusted source.
- Don’t stress over shopping. Getting into fist fights over the newest TV or toy is clearly not what the holidays are about and will dramatically increase your stress levels. Is it really about the presents?
- It’s OK not to travel. Many are compelled to travel due to family pressures and the like. It is OK to ‘skip a year’ if you are overwhelmed and feel you need a break.
- Get to bed. Sleep cycles are impacted enough going into winter with shorter days and longer nights. Be mindful of sleep routines as they have a large impact on buffering chronic stress responses and clearing your brain of toxins.
- Stick to your regular eating habits. If they are healthy ones, that is. It is OK to ‘sample the goods’ around the holidays, but overdoing it will be sure to weaken your immune system and allow stress to harm your brain and body.
- Move your body. Exercise should be a regular part of your daily routine, especially around the holidays. It minimizes the effects of stress and burns the excess calories you will likely indulge in.
- Meditate. Quiet time away from the distractions of the holidays to self-reflect and calm your mind will reduce stress levels.
- Turn off the tube. TV usage skyrockets during the holidays for many, leading to less physical activity and social disconnection. Decrease computer and social media use while you’re at it!
- Play games, listen to music, tell stories. All activities that will engage your mind and connect you to others around you during the holiday season.
- Connect socially. One of the secrets to stress reduction. Social connection produces hormones that reduce stress. If you have little or no family and friends around, volunteer opportunities abound.
Author’s Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing undue stress during the holiday season (or any season) leading to withdrawn, erratic, or dangerous behavior, increased substance use, trouble at home, work, etc., please know there are resources that can help. Brain Training is a highly effective option for dealing with chronic stress outside of acute or emergency situations. In these situations, national helplines are available and should be utilized:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
National Substance Abuse Hotline: 1.800.622.HELP (4357)
Addiction or, more appropriately, substance use disorder (SUD) is defined as one’s recurrent use of drugs and/or alcohol leading to significant clinical and functional impairment. This impairment may be reflected in the areas of physical and mental health, employment, school, relationships, finances, and more.
One thing is for certain – the vast majority of those struggling with SUD also have underlying challenges with learning and behavior, and may have one or more mental health disorders. While the reasons for these underlying challenges are likely as many as the number of challenges themselves, this shifting of perspective away from the genetic view of addiction offers great hope for those seeking progressive therapies that, in many cases, can have a profound impact on the underlying disorders and the problem behaviors and outcomes associated with SUD.
Newer thinking also dictates that addictive tendencies can be due to factors such as concussion and traumatic brain injury, and metabolic imbalances caused by food allergies, environmental toxicities, nutrient deficiencies, and the like. And let’s not forget stress…
In order for progressive brain-based modalities to be delivered effectively, which provide a tremendous complement to standard mental health strategies implemented during both in-patient and out-patient programs alike, one needs to understand that SUD is not a disease as we would normally think of one (e.g. cancer, Parkinson’s, etc.), and it is not a moral failing or a character flaw on the part of the user. SUD can affect anyone… of any class, race, gender, and ethnicity.
SUD is in fact a ‘brain problem’ that, in many respects, can be measured and needs to be approached as such for maximum gains. Let us consider 5 areas of measurement related to brain function that reveal a great deal about learning, behavior, and mental health status; and, more importantly, let us realize that something can be done to improve upon function in any or all of these areas:
- Brainwave Activity (EEG) – In our brain we have networks related to attention, vision, sensations, relaxation, emotions, vital functions, and more. How much delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma brainwave activity we have under different circumstances dictates how well various parts of these networks perform. Quantitative EEG (qEEG) is gaining popularity in select mental health circles as an extremely viable diagnostic tool that can enable us to peer into the inner workings of the brain and these brain networks that make us uniquely human.
- Cognitive Testing – Executive function, cognitive flexibility, simple and complex attention, and processing speed are just a few of the tests of higher cognitive function that can reveal a great deal about how one’s brain interacts with its environment. They are also excellent diagnostic tools for monitoring progress when treating the various subsets of learning and behavioral issues underlying SUD.
- Metabolic Function – Blood sugar, amino acids, urine organic acids, food antibodies, heavy metals, environmental toxins, hormones, neurotransmitters, vital nutrients, genetic variants, and so much more are a mix of both classic and progressive ‘biomarkers’ of brain function. How our bodies handle fuel, utilize nutrients, process hormones, and react to toxins in our environments determines how well our brains handle what is presented to them on a moment to moment basis.
- Eye Movements – Generally ignored in the mental health arena from a diagnostic perspective, eye movements of all types are directly related to the brain regions that control them. From primitive abilities of finding visual targets that involve parts of the brainstem and emotional centers like the amygdala (fear response), to fast eye movements controlled by our higher functioning frontal lobes; eye movements deliver a wealth of information related to SUD and its underlying causes. Videonystagmography (VNG) is one type of diagnostic tool used to measure these types of functions.
- Balance and Coordination – More and more, addiction based programs are implementing movement based activities such as Tai Chi and yoga. From both balance and relaxation standpoints, there is good reason to do so. Our sense of self is largely influenced by our ability to physically interact with our environment. When one has severe balance or coordination impairment, as is seen in conditions like schizophrenia, mental function and behavior will likely be impaired. Measurement tools such as dynamic posturography and standard tests of movement and coordination can be utilized to measure these abilities.
The inherent beauty of any of these tools, that can reveal a wealth of information about cognitive, behavioral, and mental functions, is that they can in turn be utilized to track progress when one enters into a collaborative treatment program with their mental health specialists and qualified functional neurologist. The blending of the ‘brain’ and the ‘mind’ sciences is long overdue and is proving to be clinically effective with regard to its impact on addiction and SUD, and the underlying disorders that are being shown with greater clarity to be the root cause of them.
As the buzz surrounding the release of the projected Christmas blockbuster movie Concussion grows; the evidence continues to mount in support of the seemingly insurmountable challenges posed by this ‘silent epidemic’.
Continued reporting from one of America’s most trusted public television investigative news sources, PBS’s FRONTLINE, demonstrates the urgency of the matter at hand; and the extremes to which it can lead… Dementia and, in severe cases, death!
The most recent FRONTLINE update from September 18, 2015, based on research from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, can be viewed in their article entitled New: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease. The most shocking part of this reporting is that the disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), was found in 87 of 91 player’s brains tested. Let that soak in for a moment… That is 96% of the brains tested in this particular ongoing study showing signs of a potentially avoidable killer disease. We will come back to this in a moment.
Some definitions, facts, and stats to ponder:
- Concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions
- Most sport-related concussions (almost 90%) occur with NO loss of consciousness (LOC)
- A median 2.7 million TBIs occur in the US each year (think about how many go unreported), at a cost of nearly $50 billion annually
- Symptoms of concussion include: headache, dizziness, balance and speech problems, nausea, light and noise sensitivities, memory and concentration difficulties, behavioral and emotional struggles, and anything out of the ordinary observed that was not an issue prior to the event/s
- Risk factors for concussion include: prior concussion, vertigo/dizziness, alcohol/drugs, high-risk behaviors and sports (e.g. football, hockey, soccer, etc.), military conflict, abusive relationships, driving, and high-risk occupations (e.g. construction, utility work, etc.)
- Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is another word for concussion; even though, in my opinion, there is no such thing as a ‘mild’ brain injury
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disorder of the brain found in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma
- Symptoms of CTE include: memory and executive function decline, depression, irritability, impulsivity, aggressiveness, suicidal behavior, eventual progression to dementia
(All facts and figures presented are courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Mayo Clinic)
***Did you know??? Those with ADHD are significantly more likely to experience worse outcomes with a concussion than their non-ADHD peers. This is of extremely important note as many children are placed in sports to control problematic behavioral and academic challenges. Read the abstract from a paper on this topic presented in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics***
Back to the FRONTLINE reporting of 96% of the NFL players’ brains containing direct indications of CTE. What is being revealed in this ongoing study is one of, if not the most, statistically significant findings of our times. Consider for a moment if you will… If there were an outbreak of any communicable disease in a family, school, small town, cruise ship, or some similar controlled group separate from our general U.S. population; it would take, in most cases, less than 1% of the population being affected to mobilize critical resources to control and eliminate such an outbreak. Why is nothing being done to prevent and treat this largely controllable epidemic that has been unfolding before our very eyes for some time now?
While there is an extraordinary amount of activity and funding being directed towards this catastrophe, we are still largely no further along in the detection, advocacy, and treatment for this ‘silent epidemic’. As a clinician who has been in the trenches working with concussion and TBI for over 15 years, the stark reality is that the vast majority of patients that have walked through the doors of our Center have been given the same advice: “Wait and see”. That is, to go without treatment in hopes of symptoms subsiding; which, in rough estimates from various sources, will not happen in approximately 25% of cases! In other words, at least one in 4 will continue with any or all of the debilitating symptoms listed above long after a blow to the head.
Why “wait and see”? The primary tests utilized after one has sustained a hit to the head and suspected brain injury are structural in nature. What this means is if you have nothing that shows up on a CT scan or MRI, you are structurally ‘OK’ and sent on your own to wait out the symptoms – possibly with the assistance of medications for pain, dizziness, nausea, etc.
What are often overlooked, or not acted upon if they are in fact implemented, are tests of brain function. There are a great number of ‘biomarkers’ of brain function that can be measured with great precision – that is, tests that tell us what’s going on in the body as a result of commands from the brain; and what might not be working well after a particular region of the brain area has been injured. What follows are some examples of these biomarkers that can be measured and improved in most cases of concussion and TBI:
- Eye movements
- Physical timing
- Cognitive abilities (e.g. memory, focus, attention)
- Vital signs (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, breathing)
- Blood sugar, hormone regulation, and other metabolic functions
Once functional deficits are identified; a host of neurological, cognitive, and metabolic rehabilitative interventions and processes can be employed to normalize these functions as best possible – and, in many cases, entirely! Examples of such would include: eye movement therapies, gait training, neurofeedback, physiotherapeutic modalities such as electrical stimulation and vibration, nutritional therapies, aromatherapy, visual and auditory training, meditation, lifestyle changes, and more.
While the quest continues to identify the best, evidence-based practices to combat this growing epidemic with little to no therapeutic intervention being rendered in most cases; there are a small number of progressive centers that strive to provide highly effective functional clinical interventions, as opposed to “wait and see” that has failed so many. Given the apparent lack of immediate shifts in the cultural circumstances that are causing brain injuries, and the inability or lack of desire of many to abstain from behaviors that are causing them, it is imperative that intervention with any head injury be focused largely on the therapeutic aspects once adequate healing time has passed.
One parting thought: There remains a sentiment in opposition to studies of the nature of the one referenced in FRONTLINE; dismissing the evidence as an overreaction to, and sensationalizing of, data from a highly specific group of individuals (i.e. football players get head injuries). My question to you is: If just one person in your family, community, etc. were to contract a disease like polio; do you think there would be any discussion of overreaction to the impending action that would be taken to remediate the cause of this potentially crippling disease?
If you knew there was something you could do, then why “wait and see”?
While it is just one of a number of potentially life-changing interventions in our ‘Brain Intensive’ training program here at Apex Brain Centers, it is important to take a moment to further describe what neurofeedback (NFB) and quantitative EEG (qEEG) are as many are unfamiliar with either one or both, although though they have been around for quite some time and are deeply rooted in the scientific literature.
Let’s take a trip… Think of a qEEG as the map that is needed to get you to your destination and the NFB as the vehicle that will get you there. The destination itself could be the ability to focus and concentrate better, sleep better, wake better, relax better, listen better, talk better, react better, move better, perform better in academics, athletics and the arts, feel less pain, reduce dependence on alcohol, drugs and food, and, in many cases, simply to feel better.
A qEEG (the map) is in fact referred to as a brain map as it is the very tool that is used to guide the provider and client alike through a course of training to improve a multitude of brain functions and abilities. Brain maps are an extension of the common EEG tests that are utilized to measure specific brain waves in individuals that have a history of seizures, brain injury, sleep disorders, behavioral problems and more. The EEG is data from the brain that is recorded from electrodes places at precise locations on the head, the various brain waves having precise physical measurements associated with them. This data is then run through a variety of sophisticated computer software programs and normative databases, which the individual’s brain waves are compared to and a brain map created…hence, the qEEG. As your GPS might have several maps for you to choose from when you determine where you want to go on a road trip, the various brain maps obtained by different databases and software systems will likely differ as well. It is the clinical wisdom of your provider, coupled with a reliable map, that will ensure you are well equipped to get you to your destination in the timeliest manner with the least amount of detours along the way. Of course, there is also the vehicle to consider…
As with cars, there are many types of NFB (the vehicle) with the level of sophistication and advanced applications and features ever-changing; exponentially in the recent past as with any other technology. NFB, in nutshell, is a form of biofeedback that uses the above-mentioned electrical brain recordings to take the client through a process of brain self-regulation. The feedback used to train the brain can be in the form of sounds, visual demonstrations, video games, movies and more whose performance is directly impacted by the real-time brain waves emitted by the client. The more the client’s brain waves fall within the parameters prescribed by the clinician in the training software, the better the performance of the vehicle and driver (client), and the faster and more efficiently the client will arrive at their destination. It is the constant positive reinforcement of the target brain wave ranges over the duration of NFB training that will ensure the greatest amount of plastic change within the brain and less reliance on the maps to tell it how to get to its desired location. This is indeed hi-tech learning at its finest!
As suggested above, the destination can vary widely from individual to individual, although the process and routes taken are often quite similar in nature. The key to a successful journey again is having the appropriate map and vehicle to arrive at your preferred destination; and having this coordinated by a clinician aptly educated and qualified to supervise and coordinate this endeavor. At Apex Brain Centers we utilize Brainmaster Technologies qEEG and NFB equipment and software that is FDA approved and suited for research in both arenas. We would use nothing but the best map and vehicle, coupled with a rich understanding of the human brain, to get you to your destination!
Call us at 828.708.5274 to learn more about this exciting technology and how it can help you and your loved ones.
What is Apex Brain Centers and how is it a Revolution in Brain Training?
Quick answer: Yes, you CAN improve your brain function and we have discovered that high frequency and calculated intensity of brain training is the best approach to help you reach your peak level of function and performance. We have been taught through the years that there is little we can do to improve certain conditions such as addiction, adult learning and behavioral issues, certain mental health issues, or reaching and sustaining the top level of professional and physical performance. We have also been taught that we just need to study harder to get better scores when taking tests for the next level of education. These things are not necessarily true. While we are born with or have things happen to us causing us to struggle with certain aspects of our lives, there is ALWAYS hope we can improve from where we are or from what we have lost!
At first I thought Apex Brain Centers was just about helping specific people with specific conditions reach a higher level of function. This falls a bit short of our true mission and purpose: Offering people HOPE when they have been told over and over again that there is no hope beyond where they are (this hope is often hard to find). Apex Brain Centers can help open pathways in the brain quickly and with long lasting results. It does not need to take months or years to improve as the plasticity of the brain allows for new pathways to be formed leading clients and their families to find new ways of getting to where they always wanted to get to, and do things they always hoped to do!
As the admissions director for Apex, it’s exciting to know I have been and will be in contact with people offering them HOPE and a solid way to get on track with their purpose in life. The Apex Team can help you learn more about the process of making positive changes in your brain quickly. This can be done in just a few weeks and much less expensively than current methods. When you are on a road trip and you get lost or turned around, you look for the best and quickest way to get where you wanted to go. Apex is here to help you find the right direction and the quickest path; saving you time, energy, and money in the process.
This past week I was privileged to witness what we do in a powerful way (video testimonial coming soon). A young man who has had significant lifetime learning and behavioral struggles was able to show his mother the work he has been doing (Mother: “I can see the changes he making, he has a smile and he was up early asking to go to breakfast, just not something he does.”). The smile on both of their faces says it all!
Should you find yourself struggling with certain aspects of your life, not living up to your own potential, or you just want to reach the next level of performance; Apex Brain Centers is here to offer you HOPE and effective interventions to help you along your way.
Call us and discover the Revolution in Brain Training for yourself. We will help you reach Your PEAK.
Admissions Director, Apex Brain Centers
While one of the biggest buzzwords in the learning and behavioral disorder treatment arena, among others, is ‘Intensive’; there are numerous takes on this seemingly simple term. For some it conjures up images of multiple treatment modalities being delivered concurrently; and for others, one modality delivered at a very high frequency and/or duration. With regard to duration of care, some may consider 3 times per week as being intensive, and others may feel nothing less than 2-3 times per day should be labeled as intensive.
At Apex Brain Centers, we focus on a ‘Brain Intensive’ approach towards a host of learning and behavioral concerns, as well as TBI and human performance. Our definition of ‘Brain Intensive’ is delivering multiple research-based brain training modalities (both hi and low tech) over short periods of time (1-2 weeks) at a high frequency (average of 3 times per day) with absolute respect paid to ‘neurological fatigue’. These protocols are directed by, and neurological fatigue measured by, objective testing data (i.e. neurological examination, electrodiagnostic testing, autonomic monitoring, etc.), as well as subjective feedback.
The foundation of our methodology, as in many programs, is the concept of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and grow (for better or worse) dependent upon the environment in which it is kept. The key difference, in addition to the high frequency/high intensity delivery model, with our approach is the ability to deliver sensory feedback (i.e. auditory, somatosensory, visual, olfactory, etc.) specific for the neurological deficit/s uncovered by examination and testing to correct the underlying brain dysfunction. Research supports the fact that most, if not all, learning and behavioral challenges can be looked at as aberrations in hemispheric symmetry, lateralization and integration, as well as disconnection and hypo/hyper functioning in and between the various lobes of the brain. Working within the context of neuroplasticity, we understand there are 3 critical components with regard to creating positive plastic changes within the brain: the frequency and intensity of the sensory experience, and fuel delivery (i.e. metabolic functions). Given the brain is a sensory-driven entity, delivering protocols specifically for the neurological deficit/s identified at a heightened frequency and intensity, while addressing challenges in metabolic function (i.e. poor diet, poor oxygenation, disease states, etc.), allows for more successful client outcomes.
Our strategy complements the wonderful world of residential and intensive outpatient programs, wilderness programs and transitional living facilities as we have observed time and time again over the years that improving and/or fixing the specific underlying brain dysfunction allows for more successful outcomes with behavioral modification, counseling, education; and nearly any other treatment, educational, or re-integration modality the client will partake in, if any.
Released in January of 2008, the book Spark was a catalyst for massive change in my own personal life. Being a perpetual student of neurology, and more specifically neuroplasticity, I am always on the lookout for new resources to share with my patients to help them on their quest for optimal health. Dr. John Ratey does a superb job in this book outlining the physical changes that occur in our brains as a result of the various types of physical activity/exercise we perform; and for those that don’t exercise, it will give you incredible motivation to start the journey!
Many of us exercise because we feel we “have to”, or to burn calories, lose weight, build muscle and look better. While these are good reasons, they typically do not sustain the motivation we need for lifelong health. Dr. Ratey helps us to understand the countless chemical compounds that are produced as a result of various types of exercise (such as insulin like growth factor – IGF1, vascular endothelial growth factor – VEGF, brain derived neurotrophic factor – BDNF), and what these compounds do to improve our ability to handle blood sugar, repair blood vessels and establish connections within our nervous system.
It has been shown that our thoughts and emotions are an internalization of our body movements. The way we move our bodies, and understanding the impact this has on our brains, is critical for battling many behavioral, psychological, biochemical and physical conditions. Dr. Ratey outlines 7 specific conditions including anxiety, depression, and ADHD among others; which can benefit tremendously with appropriate and adequate physical activity.
There is an abundance of evidence supporting neurogenesis (new brain cell growth) as a result of physical activity, and this is explored within the pages of this book as well.
When you are done with this book you will feel that losing weight and looking better is merely a pleasant side effect of exercise, and not necessarily the most important effect. I can speak from personal experience that this book will significantly change the way you view exercise as it has added a tremendous amount of new life to my quest for optimal health – and it has been nice to lose a few pounds and look better in the process!!