A really big word that I like to use a lot is neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to repair itself, to even find new routes around damaged synapses to execute functions and tasks.
I find this to be an incredibly hopeful reality. A book called “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Dr. Norman Doidge explains how the brain makes these miraculous rebounds.
A publicist for Dr. Doidge sent me this book more than three years ago when I was covering neurology for Healthline.com.
Since becoming unemployed a few months back, I have been catching up on books I have been meaning to read.
Why do I find this book so fascinating? Because it illustrates what I already know to be true: No matter how damaged the brain might be, it can and will repair itself.
I am proof of that.
When I moved back to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles in 2002, my brain was so fried from crystal meth I truly did not think it ever would work again. Sure, I seemed to be functioning OK, and I even landed a job as an editor at The Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch upon my return.
But I was FAR from OK, and anybody who knows me now knows that. My writing was terrible, and I could not sit still for five minutes, let alone long enough to watch a TV show.
Later, when I crashed from years of using drugs, I plunged into depression. Crying, curled up in a ball…nobody ever thought I would work again. Thus began the heavy doping period perpetuated by the Robert Young Center. My father was urging me to apply for disability.
But my brain got over that depression, and the next thing you knew I was a full-time reporter at the Quad-City Times by day, cokehead party boy by night.
And again, my brain repaired itself, after getting TOTALLY sober in 2013. And here I am today.
I may be unemployed and struggling, but it has nothing to do with a broken brain.
Ha! Quite the opposite.
A traumatized brain, though? Yes.
My fellow medical cannabis patients will find the book interesting
Another reason why I wanted to read this book is because it talks about helping people with traumatic brain injury.
Through the years, particularly since I have been writing about health, but even before then, many people with traumatic brain injury have reached out to me. They have done so as people wanting to share their story with a journalist.
People with traumatic brain injury face incredible frustration. They still are who they always were inside a part of their brains, and yet they cannot function exactly as before. It creates incredible frustration.
Only now can I fully understand that frustration. I say that because I also feel like I am an eagle ready to fly, but cannot, due to the trauma inside my brain – the anger – that prevents me from carrying on each day in a happy and well manner.
So here are some interesting findings in the book about traumatic brain injury. There also are, as I suspected, some interesting references to post-traumatic stress as well, and some unconventional ways of treating it. The same goes for multiple sclerosis.
What else do PTSD, MS, and TBI have in common? They all are qualifying conditions for medical cannabis cards in Illinois.
Treating TBI, MS, Parkinson’s, PTSD unconventionally
In Dr. Doidge’s book, he speaks of two forms of therapy that can help a damaged brain rewire itself, so to speak.
The first is called Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator (PoNS) therapy.
It may sound a bit scary, but here’s how it works. Something that resembles a piece of gum goes inside the patient’s mouth. Resting on the tongue, it begins to send out electrical impulses (the patient can’t feel it).
“Scientists have discovered that the tongue is an information superhighway leading straight to the brain stem, which is closely connected to the brain’s processing areas for movement, sensation, mood, cognition, and balance,” according to a news release that accompanied the book.
The idea is that the impulses disrupt the brain’s matrix and allow stimulation to find new ways of reaching the hippocampus. The program was developed by doctors at the University of Wisconsin’s Tactile Communication and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory.
After treating 200 patients over 12 years, the team – Drs. Yuri Danilov, Mitch Tyler, and Kurt Kaczmarek – found no side effects, according to the press release. “They either see positive results or no changes in the patient.”
Patients have been treated for TBI, stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.
Regarding TBI, the book describes a treatment by “an extremely creative Canadian clinician” named Dr. George Roth called “matrix repatterning.”
In setting up what matrix repatterning is, Dr. Doidge explains, “All head blows involve an energy transfer into the body. When the blow occurs, the force will dissipate through the body, the brain, and the skill. The person needn’t even have direct contact with an object for an energy transfer to occur.”
He continues, “Shock waves from a bomb blast will transfer energy to damage the heart and brain. In car accidents, these energy transfers affect not only the skin and bones, but the fluid-filled organs of the body as well.”
I think about all the horrible car accidents I have had, including one that could have killed my dad and I both. I had just moved back from Los Angeles and dad was in pretty bad shape. I had a seizure while driving and lost consciousness; dad grabbed the wheel and steered us into a ravine to avoid a head-on collision.
I hit my head hard enough to break my nose and deploy the airbag; dad ended up in a nursing home for a couple of months after we were roommates in the hospital at UnityPoint Trinity for about a week.
At any rate, Roth performs his TBI therapy by touching a broken bone or spot on the skull with his hand to conduct electricity. Since the 1840s, according to Doidge, doctors have known that apply electricity to broken bones facilitates their healing.
Dr. Doidge writes:
“Since the hand also has been shown to be a source of measurable electrical fields because of its nerves and muscle fibers, Roth uses it as a magnetic field. Or he increasingly uses an electromagnetic pulse generator near the injured tissue, while applying gentle pressure on it with his hands, to speed this process.
Over the years I have followed a number of TBI patients on whom these techniques were applied: often, their long-standing headaches, mental fog, dizziness, sleep or multitasking problems, and other TBI symptoms were resolved partially or completely.”
Neurofeedback useful for identifying PTSD triggers
Finally, another non-invasive brain therapy discussed in Dr. Doidge’s book is called neurofeedback. My dad actually had this done many years ago.
Dr. Doidge describes it this way:
“Brain waves, which have been measurable since the early to mid-twentieth century, are measured in waves per second. Different brain waves correlate with levels of conscious arousal and types of conscious experience.”
In a person with PTSD, for example, memories that trigger trauma will make brain waves that go very, very fast on an EEG. A psychologist may be able to help a person in this manner to better recognize triggers and to control them.
This would be particularly useful for a person who may not fully understand where their trauma is coming from.
There is nothing like a good book about the brain to get me excited about health reporting. I highly recommend “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Dr. Norman Doidge.
One chapter in this book even describes how walking – and you all know I’m a huge fan of walking – can assist in repairing the most broken of brains.
Take it from someone who at one time many, many years ago thought life was not worth living, and that it never would improve – you don’t always need Pharma to “get better.”
This books makes incredibly compelling arguments for that.
Until next time.