Traumatized brains can repair themselves, book explains

David Heitz

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A big word that I like to use lately is neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to repair itself. The brain can find new routes around damaged synapses to execute tasks.

I find this an incredibly hopeful reality. A book called “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Dr. Norman Doidge explains how the brain makes these impressive rebounds.

Why do I find this book so fascinating? Because it proves no matter how damaged the brain might be, it can 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 drugs I did not think I ever would work again.

I plunged into depression. I curled up in a ball and cried all the time. Eventually I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. The doctor prescribed Risperdal and Wellbutrin.

My brain got over the depression, and the next thing you knew I was a full-time news reporter again.

My brain repaired itself.

It was traumatized, but not broken.

TBI patients will find the book interesting

Another reason I read this book is because it talks about traumatic brain injury.

Many people with traumatic brain injury have reached out to me through the years. They have wanted to share their stories with a journalist.

People with traumatic brain injury face incredible frustration. They still are who they always were, yet they cannot function as easily as before. It creates incredible frustration.

Writers like me get to exercise our brain muscles every day. Over time, we get smarter and more efficient with our writing.

There are some interesting findings in the book about traumatic brain injury. There also are references to post-traumatic stress and some unconventional ways of treating it. The same goes for Multiple Sclerosis.

New ways of treating TBI, MS, Parkinson’s, PTSD

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 the tongue is an information superhighway leading straight to the brain stem. The tongue is closely connected to the brain’s processing areas for movement, sensation, mood, cognition, and balance.

The idea is that the impulses disrupt the brain’s matrix and allow stimulation to find new ways of reaching the hippocampus. Doctors at the University of Wisconsin’s Tactile Communication and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory developed the program.

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David Heitz

After treating 200 patients over 12 years, the team – doctors Yuri Danilov, Mitch Tyler, and Kurt Kaczmarek – found only positive side effects.

Patients have been treated for TBI, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s Disease.

‘Matrix re-patterning’ a revolutionary TBI treatment

The book describes a TBI treatment by a Canadian clinician named Dr. George Roth. It's called matrix re-patterning.

In setting up what matrix re-patterning 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 remember 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 had a seizure while driving. Dad grabbed the steering 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. My dad and I ended up roommates in the hospital for about a week. Dad broke several bones and rehabilitated in a nursing home.

Roth performs 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 applying electricity to broken bones facilitates healing.

Neurofeedback useful for identifying PTSD triggers

Neurofeedback is another non-invasive brain therapy discussed in Dr. Doidge’s book. My dad 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 go extremely fast on an EEG. A psychologist may be able to help a person better recognize triggers and control them.

This would be particularly useful for a person who may not fully understand where their trauma is coming from.

One chapter in Doidge's book even describes how walking – and I’m a huge fan of walking – can assist in repairing the most broken of brains.

Take it from someone who at one time thought life never would improve.

It does get better.

We do recover.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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