BRAIN PROGRAMMING: New Pathways Enable the Brain to Reach its Optimum Potential

REVIEW

PROGRAMMING THE DYSFUNCTIONAL BRAIN DISCOVER OPTIONS FOR THE TREATMENT OF CEREBRAL PALSY & TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

Successful Images, Inc. Running time: Appx. 45 minutes

IN JURY TO THE HUMAN BRAIN can have catastrophic consequences. Anyone who has watched a loved one suffer through the consequences of a stroke, head injury, coma or cerebral palsy can testify, to this fact. In the case of stroke or head injury, the afflicted person may be suddenly robbed of the ability to move freely, speak or even feed himself. Movements may become erratic and uncontrollable, or may disappear altogether as the victim falls into a semi-vegetative state. If a coma results from head injury, the ones left behind may wonder whether their loved one will ever awaken, and whether she will be able to function if she does.

Cerebral palsy, a disorder caused by lack of oxygen to the brain of an unborn fetus or young infant, results in an inability to control bodily movements. At these stages of life, much development is going on in the nervous system, and any disruption of oxygen flow to fine brain can have disastrous effects. The damage in cerebral palsy is to the part of the brain that controls muscle tone. As a result of this damage, muscle tone may be either too tight (hypertonic) or too loose (hypotonic), or there may be a combination of hyper- and hypotonia that causes erratic, unpredictable movements. Cerebral palsy may affect the entire body, only one side of the body, or (rarely) only the upper or lower half of the body. It is estimated that two to four of every 1.000 individuals will have some degree of cerebral palsy. In some cases, it is not severely debilitating, causing only a limp or other slight difficulties with motor control: at the other extreme are those patients who are wheelchair-bound and cannot speak or feed themselves. Intellectual function may be normal or even above normal, but mental retardation can be a part of the illness.

Whether cerebral palsy causes mental retardation or not, any disability that interferes with normal physical development will compromise mental development as well. Motor (physical) develop-merit delivers information to the brain and supports cognitive development to a large extent. The two go hand-in-hand.

The most common cause of adult brain injury is stroke, where a clogged or burst blood vessel in the brain deprives brain tissue of needed oxygen. When this occurs, brain cells die, and swelling around the area of injury causes more brain tissue to be cut off from adequate blood supply, which leads to more brain cell death--a compounding of the original injury. Other potential causes of adult brain cell death include near drowning, cardiac arrest, electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning or injury from a fall or a vehicle accident. In some cases, brain injury can be so mild that it isn't noticed right away, and only as subtle changes in behavior and physical abilities become apparent is the problem diagnosed.

Therapeutic efforts to help brain injured individuals usually include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy (to help with work- and school-related tasks) and recreational therapy. The general assumption is that brain tissue can't be restored, and that brain injury is more or less a permanent condition that won't change much for the better. A new videotape, produced by Successful Images in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may offer new hope to brain-injured people and their families.

"Programming the Dysfunctional Brain" introduces some intriguing new concepts in the treatment of brain injury. Several leading experts on this topic describe their approaches on-camera. The major point the video makes is that while there is still no cure for brain injury, it is entirely possible--with the right interventions--to restore some of the function that has been lost.

Plasticity and cell regeneration

The brain is a remarkably plastic organ. This means that while specific areas of the brain are designed to handle specific tasks, other parts of the brain can take on those tasks if necessary. Some of the therapeutic interventions detailed in "Programming the Dysfunctional Brain" are designed to encourage this plasticity by stimulating the formation of new neural pathways in the injured brain, drawing upon its previously untapped potential.

It is also possible for some brain cells that have become inactive to be re-activated. While brain cell death is responsible for many of the symptoms of brain injury, some cells in the compromised region may have stopped functioning, but may still be viable. Conventional therapies may never address this, but in "Programming the Dysfunctional Brain," finding ways to nourish and stimulate these non-functioning neurons (brain cells) is an essential part of a comprehensive treatment regimen.

Sensory-motor development

In the first minutes of the 45-minute videotape, some basic concepts about the integration of the senses, motor skills and neurological development are outlined in simple language. These concepts are essential to an understanding of the treatment methods introduced later on. The importance of movement, starting in utero and continuing through infancy and childhood, is emphasized. Of equal importance is the ability to experience the world through the senses, as the processing of that information is what stimulates appropriate neurological development.

The emphasis of the video is on children with brain impairments, most typically seen as cerebral palsy. All of the concepts discussed, however, are applicable to adults who have incurred traumatic brain injuries. While adults have already passed through the developmental stages, brain injury creates inconsistencies among their sensory, motor and intellectual abilities. In the case of stroke, for example, a patient may know that she wants to move her hand to swat an insect that she sees on her other arm, but her muscles won't obey the command from her brain. She may know what a broom is used for, but she may not be able to bring the word "broom" out of her memory bank. These are simplistic illustrations of the remarkably complex interrelationships that exist between the brain, senses and muscles and enable us to function at the advanced level that most of us take for granted.

Dr. Rick Morris, one expert featured in the video, describes the difference between treatment of infants or young children with cerebral palsy and adult brain injury victims: infants and children undergo "habilitation," while adults undergo "rehabilitation." The younger populations are learning skills they have never had, while adults are working to regain skills that they have lost.

Experts speak

The video features commentary from four leading experts in the treatment of traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy. Neurologist Dr. David Perlemutter shares some of his wealth of knowledge about the interactions between neurology and nutrition, and about an exciting new therapy for brain cell regeneration called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO).

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used for some time in the treatment of burn patients and scuba divers afflicted with "the bends." Some physicians have used it successfully in the treatment of AIDS, as well. It is still considered an experimental treatment for brain injury, but the results seen by Dr. Perlemutter and others have been remarkable. The treatment requires only that patients spend 60 to 90 minutes in a glass chamber, where they breathe 100 percent oxygen at an air pressure slightly higher than atmospheric pressure.

How does HBO regenerate brain cells? By bringing precious oxygen deep into the brain tissue to rejuvenate marginal cells--those that have not died, but have lost function. Under normal atmospheric pressure, oxygen molecules are carried primarily on red blood cells. A healthy person's red blood cells are normally 98% saturated with oxygen, meaning that there isn't any way to increase the oxygen load they are carrying. By slightly increasing the pressure and increasing the percentage of oxygen in the inhaled air, HBO causes oxygen to dissolve into body fluids, including brain fluid, blood plasma and spinal cord fluid.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been shown to immediately decrease brain swelling, a major cause of brain cell death after trauma. It has positive effects whether it's used immediately following a brain injury or years later. In case studies, some function has been restored in stroke patients up to 14 years after the initial brain injury! Dr. Perlemutter emphasizes the importance of adequate antioxidant supplementation during hyperbaric therapy to counteract the increased formation of free radicals that results from high oxygen concentrations.

Dr. Richard Neubauer is the executive director of the American College of Hyperbaric Medicine. A practitioner of HBO since 1972, he speaks enthusiastically of the potential of this therapy for brain injured individuals. He also describes his use of Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT) to identify areas of the brain that will respond to HBO. With the injection of a radiotracer, SPECT scanning allows the physician to see the marginal areas of the brain, and to chart the revitalization of these areas during the course of regenerative therapy.

Dr. Herbert Pardell, D.O., is the medical director of the Life Extension Institute, and is also featured in "Programming the Dysfunctional Brain." His area of expertise lies in the optimization of nutrition for brain injured patients. He discusses the importance of treating leaky gut and maintaining the proper acid/alkaline balance in the colon, as well as specific nutrients that feed brain tissue and enhance neurotransmission.

Dr. Rick Morris, mentioned earlier, is a behavioral optometrist. Behavioral optometry takes conventional optometry beyond simple vision testing and corrective lens prescription. It takes a holistic view of the visual sense as deeply integrated with the other senses and with neurological and motor development. Visual testing helps the behavioral optometrist to create a treatment plan for developmental and functional problems related to brain injury--physical therapy for the eyes. With the development of visual skills through therapy and training, vital connections can be made within the nervous system.

Training the body to train the brain

The second half of "Programming the Dysfunctional Brain" features a unique program of exercises designed by Walter (Gene) Lewis, a sensory motor developmentalist. Mr. Lewis' organization, Walter's Rehabilitation Therapies, Inc., promotes the use of very specific exercises for brain injured patients. The exercises are designed to replicate stages of motor development that normally occur in infancy, and that are instrumental in the building of sensory and neural connections. Mr. Lewis' program has been used in the treatment of patients who are comatose, have cerebral palsy or have incurred traumatic brain injuries.

These exercises are passive, meaning that the patient is moved by one, two or several helpers or therapists. Mr. Lewis explains each exercise in detail, and informs viewers about how it works to positively affect brain function. The timing and mechanics of each exercise is demonstrated clearly. Cameras are placed so that viewers can see exactly where the therapists are placing their hands, and many helpful hints are offered so that the exercises can easily be understood and performed correctly. This part of the video is extremely informative and easy to follow.

The exercises themselves involve crossing and uncrossing of the limbs, folding and unfolding of the body and side-to-side undulations. Soft-bristled brushes are used to stimulate nerve endings in the feet, hands and elsewhere, and firm manual pressure offers further stimulation to the nervous system. Movements that resemble a baby's earliest attempts at crawling are an important part of the program. Certain movements are targeted to certain parts of the brain; one exercise is particularly helpful for learning disabilities, while another facilitates bowel and bladder function. Instructions for number of repetitions, sessions per day and approximate duration of each session are given for each exercise.

Traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy

All of the experts featured in "Programming the Dysfunctional Brain" emphasize that a multidimensional approach, incorporating both conventional and experimental therapies, will provide the best environment for the healing of brain injured individuals. Physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapies most certainly have their place, and the more family and friends can become involved, the better. Proper nutrition provides the raw materials the body needs to heal injured brain tissue and enhance the transmission of information through the sensory-motor system. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy oxygenates brain tissue and will probably become a mainstay of brain injury treatment in the future. And finally, Walter Lewis' specialized exercise program helps to integrate body and brain.

Today, more than ever before, brain injured individuals can find help and hope. "Programming the Dysfunctional Brain" belongs in the video library of every brain injured person, as well as in the offices of any medical professionals involved in their treatment.

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By Melissa Block

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