Retraining the Brain
Difficulties with physical balance are among the most common problems seen in neurology and rehabilitation. Problems with balance are seen in people of many ages, but are a particular problem as we grow older and following events such as strokes and head injuries. Impairments in balance can result in an increased risk of accidental falls, broken bones, head injuries, occupational injuries, and even death.
However, balance problems are not simply something that affects older people. Having a high level of balance is also vitally important for peak performance, for example, with gymnasts, in golf, skiing, dancing, and various other sports. But balance problems can be especially dangerous for older people because they have more fragile bones and slower reflexes to prevent themselves from falling. Each year 200,000 people break one of their hips as a result of a fall. After this happens, 20% of them die within 6 months, and another 20% need to move into a nursing home.
As we grow older, problems with balance also simply decrease mobility and physical activity. When you are afraid of falling, you become less active, which leads to declines in physical ability, strength, and your quality of life. This decline in activity and independence also leads to depression. Thus improving your physical balance can be vitally important. Physical instability does not need to be considered a normal part of aging because there is help available.
How Can You Tell if Your Balance Needs to be Improved?
There are standardized tests, such as the Berg Balance scale, that can be administered by a physical therapist. However, there is also a simple way that you can test your quality of balance. First of all, stand with someone close to you to support you in case you begin to lose your balance. Then put your feet together, stand up straight, and put your arms straight out to your sides. Close your eyes, and then, keeping your eyes closed, walk forward, heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe, for several steps. If you are wobbly and have difficulty maintaining your balance, you have a problem that can likely be improved.
This information will explain to you an exciting and easy new treatment that usually rapidly improves problems with physical balance. If further assistance is needed, physicians specializing in neuromuscular rehabilitation and the physical therapists working with them can commonly prescribe helpful exercises aimed at improving balance and stability. Physicians specializing in ear, nose, and throat (ENT) problems may also need to be consulted.
Retraining Your Brain
We know that physical balance does not just involve having adequate muscle or joint strength. It also involves how your brain is functioning. Brain function may be impaired in association with many things, including the aging process, from having a stroke, concussion, or head injury, and from contact with environmental contaminants. What is particularly fascinatingly is that the ability to maintain physical balance has even been found in research to have a moderate genetic, inherited component to it.
Because the manner in which our brain is functioning is associated with problems with balance, these problems may be addressed directly through using modern technology to retrain and recondition the brain. It has been found that even following strokes and head injuries, improvements in brain function can often occur because of something known as brain plasticity. This means that not only can the brain continue to learn, but with training, sometimes other areas of the brain can compensate for areas that were damaged.
We retrain your brainwave patterns using something known as EEG biofeedback, also called neurofeedback. Research on this technology began in the 1970’s and has now become much more refined. Neurofeedback consists of a simple procedure where we attach a couple of electrodes on the back of your head. Nothing is put into the brain. Our high tech electronic equipment simply reads your brainwave activity and then provides you with realtime, instantaneous audio and visual feedback about that activity. Ordinarily, we can’t influence our brainwave patterns because we lack awareness of them, but when you can see your brainwaves on a computer screen a thousandth of a second after they occur, it gives you the ability to influence and change them. We can literally recondition the brain, usually reducing inefficient brain patterns and bringing about improvements in many kinds of symptoms.
In our clinical experience, changes in physical balance can usually be seen within 2 sessions, and very significant improvements are commonly apparent in 6-8 sessions. These changes have been found to be enduring when we have followed up cases more than a year later. When working over the part of the brain that improves physical balance, if there are problems with swallowing, gagging, or incontinence, they will often show improvements at the same time.
A Case Example
A woman had suffered some whiplash head injuries in car accidents. We used neurofeedback to help improve her fibromyalgia, mental fogginess, and sleep problems that had resulted. Then she wanted help with her problems with both physical balance, and also with problems with swallowing. For two weeks she was instructed to each morning do the balance test described above and to then use a rating scale to indicate the quality of her balance. While eating breakfast each morning she also rated the degree of difficulty in swallowing. The graph below charts her improvements after each of her 8 treatment sessions. On a 9 month follow-up, these significant improvements were retained. The positive outcomes in this case are not unusual, but rather are typical of the improvements that we see.
Problems Often Helped Through Neurofeedback
Research suggests that maladaptive brainwave patterns are frequently associated with a number of medical and psychological disorders, and the intellectual function associated with them. Examples include:
- Stroke, Head Injuries & Concussions, after Neurosurgery, Restless Legs
- Cognitive Decline Associated with Aging
- Seizures, Tics or Tremors, & Tourette’s
- Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without hyperactivity, Learning Disabilities, & Autism.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, & Post-Polio Syndrome.
- Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, & Sleep Disorders.
- Alcoholics & their children, Substance Abuse, and Cognitive Damage from Substance Abuse.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Brain Fog after chemotherapy or radiation.
These conditions can be improved in many cases through neurofeedback.
Frank H. Duffy, M.D., a Professor and Neurologist at Harvard Medical School, stated in the journal Clinical Electroencephalography that scholarly literature now suggests that neurofeedback “should play a major therapeutic role in many difficult areas. In my opinion, if any medication had demonstrated such a wide spectrum of efficacy it would be universally accepted and widely used.” He said, “It is a field to be taken seriously by all.”
This Cutting Edge Technology is Available
Neurofeedback and brain mapping services are available at the offices of Dr. Barbara Paul-Blume, Ph.D., BCIA. She is board certified in EEG Neurofeedback, and a licensed Clinical Psychologist in California (PSY 10174). Dr. Blume has used neurofeedback to work with many problems including head injuries and concussions, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, insomnia, restless legs, OCD, anxiety and panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, alcoholism, drug abuse and damage resulting from substance abuse, autism, Asperger’s, following neurosurgery, for problems with physical balance, to counter effects of aging on the brain, with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and uncontrolled epilepsy.