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Brainwave Training Boosts Network

for Cognitive Control

and Affects

Mind-Wandering

 

ScienceDaily

October 24, 2012

A breakthrough study conducted in Canada has found that training of the well-known brainwave in humans, the alpha rhythm, enhances a brain network responsible for cognitive-control. The training technique, termed neurofeedback, is being considered as a promising new method for restoring brain function in mental disorders. Using several neuroimaging methods, a team of researchers at the Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute have now uncovered that functional changes within a key brain network occur directly after a 30-minute session of noninvasive, neural-based training. Dysfunction of this cognitive-control network has previously been implicated in a range of brain disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

During neurofeedback, users learn to control their own brain activity with the help of a brain-computer interface. In the simplest case, this consists of a computer that records brainwaves through surface sensors on the scalp, known as an EEG (electroencephalogram). The system is then able to process and simultaneously represent a user's real-time brain activity, displayed from moment-to-moment during a training game on a computer. This setup is known as a neurofeedback loop, because information of brain activity is continually fed-back to a user reflecting their level of control. Such real-time feedback allows users to reproduce distinct brain states under physiologically-normal conditions, promising to be an innovative way to foster brain changes without adverse effects. This is possible because of neuroplasticity, a natural property of the brain that enables it to reorganise after continual training, resulting from adjustments to its own activity.

 

The new findings firstly help to address a long-standing issue in the field: whether neurofeedback training can trigger any brain changes at all? "The effects we observed were durable enough to be detected with functional MRI up to 30 minutes after a session of neurofeedback which allowed us to compare brain and behavioral measures more closely in time," says Tomas Ros, PhD, lead author of the study, now at University of Geneva. "We were excited to find that increased metabolic coupling within a key cognitive network was reflected in the individual level of brainwave change provoked by neurofeedback. The same measures were found to be tightly correlated with reductions in mind-wandering during an attention task. Amazingly, this would imply that the brain's function may be entrained in a direction that is more attentive and quiet. In other words, our findings speak for the exquisite functional plasticity of the adult brain, whose past activity of little more than 30 minutes ago can condition its future state of processing. This has already been hinted at in meditation research, but we arrived at a direct and explicit demonstration by harnessing a brain-computer interface."

 

Senior author Dr. Ruth Lanius, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute adds: "Compared to the lack of significant findings in the control group that received training with false feedback, our findings are unambiguously supportive of a direct and plastic impact of neurofeedback on a central cognitive-control network, suggesting a promising basis for its use to treat cognitive disorders. We hope that our observations will stimulate more research by the science community in order to fully evaluate EEG neurofeedback as a viable and potentially revolutionary approach for the treatment of brain disorders. We are very excited by this promise and anticipate a host of new studies in this direction, particularly for cognitive disorders. Our current work has now moved into the clinical domain to examine whether patients with post-traumatic stress disorder may benefit from this advance." The study was directed by Lanius and Dr. Jean Theberge.

 

University of Western Ontario. "Brainwave training boosts network for cognitive control and affects mind-wandering." ScienceDaily, 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.

Gluten-Free Recipe:

Roasted Pumpkin-Apple Soup

 

 

 

Apples add just a hint of sweetness to this velvety pumpkin soup. Try it as a delightful first course for a special meal.

 

 

12 servings, about 1 cup each                         Active Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes         

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds pumpkin, pumpkin puree or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (see Tip)
  • 4 large sweet-tart apples, such as Empire, Cameo or Braeburn, unpeeled, cored and cut into eighths
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted (see Tip)
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Toss pumpkin (or squash), apples, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, for 30 minutes. Stir in sage and continue roasting until very tender and starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes more.
  3. Transfer about one-third of the pumpkin (or squash) and apples to a blender along with 2 cups broth. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a Dutch oven and repeat for two more batches. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and heat through over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to prevent splattering, for about 6 minutes. Serve each portion topped with hazelnuts and a drizzle of hazelnut oil.

Nutrition

180 Calories;  9 g Fat;  1 g Sat;  7 g Mono;  0 mg Cholesterol;  25 g Carbohydrates;  3 g Protein;  6 g Fiber;  525 mg Sodium;  569 mg Potassium

 

1 Carbohydrate Serving

Exchanges: 1 starch, 1/2 fruit, 2 fat

Nutrition Note: Vitamin A (290% daily value), Vitamin C (40% dv), Potassium (16% dv).

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave on High, covered, stirring frequently, or on the stovetop over medium heat.
  • Tips: Make it easier to cut a pumpkin, acorn squash or other winter squash: pierce in several places with a fork; microwave on High for 45 to 60 seconds. Use a large sharp knife to cut in half. Remove the seeds and stringy fibers with a spoon.
  • To toast chopped nuts, small nuts and seeds, place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

 Technology can reduce our stress, too

 

By Amanda Enayati, Special to CNN

 

October 6, 2012

 

I recently had my brain mapped to find out how I handle stress.

 

I sat ensconced in a large black leather chair, hooked up to electrodes cemented through a bright red cap with some kind of gel.

 

Donnie, a senior technician with an impressive knowledge of applied neurobiology, guided me through a series of challenges meant to provide a baseline, determined through a qEEG (that is, a quantitative electroencephalogram), for a variety of things including how quickly my brain activates when faced with stressful situations, how it copes during those tasks, how quickly it recovers from errors and how it returns to a resting state.

 

I learned a few things from this exercise: One, the gel from the sensors seriously messes up your blow-out. Two, I perform optimally when everything is OK. But in high-pressure situations, I make mistakes. I'm less likely to recover and reset after those errors.

 

Most important, I learned that I can't still my mind: Even when I'm resting, my brain produces the same amount of activation as most people would in problem-solving mode.

 

This information came in the form of charts and graphs a few days after my qEEG assessment. It was explained to me by Dr. Leslie Sherlin, a neuroscientist and chief science officer of Neurotopia, a company that works primarily with elite athletes. In the case of those athletes, the assessment is followed by a series of training sessions designed to help them perform optimally during high-stress competitions.

 

The exercise was part of my ongoing research on emerging technologies that may help with stress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

Genes may play a key role in stress

 

On some level, I recognize the irony of examining how technology can help us relieve stress when many (and maybe even most) people may argue that technology itself is a huge contributor to our chronic stress. Each time I ask people over my social network how they use technology to de-stress, I receive a range of snarky responses along the lines of "I press the off button" or "I get on a plane and fly someplace with no signal."

Nonetheless, the field of wellness is a hot area in technology, growing ever more crowded with apps and gadgets (referred to hereafter as "gizmos") that determine how stressed you might be.

 

Some of these go on to offer assistance through guided imagery, deep breathing, self-hypnosis, and sound and sleep therapy. Several will send you texts to ask you how you're doing and whether you want to play a game or hear a song.

 

"Over the past few years, we have gotten very good at measuring and tracking our stress," said Dr. Eric Topol, director and chief academic officer at the Scripps Translational Science Institute and author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care." Topol is a passionate advocate of the potential of personalized medicine to radically transform medicine as we know it.

 

Sensors can measure heart rate, blood pressure and skin conductance. We can now determine mood, mental state and depression through tone and inflection of voice, movement, position, activity and communication -- how much you are e-mailing, texting and phoning.

 

According to Topol, "We can generate exquisite health data -- virtually in real time -- about stress, anxiety and as well as both depressive and manic states."

 

How to bounce back better

 

But all of this measuring and tracking, to what end? Or as an attendee at a technology conference asked far more eloquently, "What the hell am I going to do with all this information?"

 

"Quantifying is actionable," Topol said. "When people get a feedback loop that makes them aware of stress that they were not in touch with, it motivates them and spurs them into taking action."

 

Of course, this has yet to be validated. The feedback loop we have perfected with respect to our diet and exercise levels has yet to lead to real and lasting change to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the obesity rates and escalating health costs that have resulted.

 

Because, as we all know, buying the app or gadget doesn't count. And having it sitting in perpetuity on your bedside table doesn't count, either. (It might even make a person a bit more stressed out every time she has to look at the bloody gizmo and recall that she hasn't ever actually used it.)

My hunch is that all this data will just be noise for a while. But eventually, it will begin to take shape.

 

We will watch those shapes for a while and start seeing patterns. Not only will we start to design products that help us lower our stress levels, we will also figure out how to design products in existing categories -- for example, household appliances, computers, cars and websites -- that are less stressful.

Neema Moraveji, director of the Stanford Calming Technology Lab, is at work designing a calming e-mail reader that delivers and organizes messages in a less frenzied way.

 

"People are reconsidering the blind pursuit of technology as an end. Some of us in the tech community are thinking about the effects of digital toxins the same way engineers, policy-makers and designers consider environmental toxins," Moraveji said.

 

For now, this is all you need to know: The best stress reducer is the one you use. Stress may harm the brain - but it recovers.

 

 

 

 

 

Referral Program Promotion:

Win an iPad Mini!

 

An iPad Mini will be provided to the client

who refers the most new clients between

November 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013.

 

*Details: New clients must have an Evaluation or Assessment completed or sign up for a program or package before May 31, 2013.

If an iPad Mini is not available, a comparable substitution will be provided.

 

Please contact us if you have any questions.

 

Training the brain to stress less

By Amanda Enayati, CNN Contributor

October 18, 2012

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Experts are mapping elite athletes' brains to determine optimal brain wave patterns
  • Neurofeedback may be able to retrain the brainwaves of children with ADHD and autism
  • STRIVE and SimCoach are two programs being used to help soldiers returning from war

Train the brain. Until recently, this phrase made me picture Neo from "The Matrix" proclaiming "I know kung fu" after he had martial arts abilities uploaded into his brain.

 

But what if we really could harness technology, Neo-style, to help train our brains to better cope with everyday stress?

 

For many of us, the days seem to pass in one anxiety-ridden blur after another. Mental health professional increasingly agree that these daily sprints, accompanied by a soundtrack of endless beeps, chirps and vibrations emitting from various devices, set off our stress systems, keeping us in a persistent and physiologically damaging state of fight-or-flight.

 

"The way we live our lives now is like running marathons," said Dr. Leslie Sherlin, a neuroscientist and chief science officer of Neurotopia, a company that provides brain training to athletes. "And in some ways, that's great, but you can't run marathons all the time."

 

Keep that pace, says Sherlin, and at some point, you will burn out. You may also suffer from a weakened immune system that can lead to an increased risk of disease.

 

Most of us have received some kind of formal instruction about diet, exercise, the birds and the bees. So why aren't we training our brains to better manage stress?

 

Some of the most compelling training to help prepare people to better handle stress is going on right now with athletes and soldiers.

 

For these two distinct groups, performance under high stress is a must (albeit for very different reasons). But the technologies being used to train them could benefit the rest of us as well.

 

Technology could help us reduce stress, too.

 

Training athletes for the field

 

I became interested in the way athletes train for peak performance in high-stakes environments last year, when I interviewed Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist who works with Sherlin to train elite athletes to perform optimally during high-stress competition. Gervais and Sherlin work with athletes from the NFL, NBA and NHL as well as Olympians, golfers and many others.

 

What Gervais told me then was that the key to high performance was a disciplined mind. While not exactly news, the methods Gervais and his colleagues use to teach mental discipline were quite interesting. They were using older Eastern disciplines like mindfulness, presence, meditation, deep breathing and neurofeedback.

 

The way we live our lives now is like running marathons. ... In some ways, that's great, but you can't run marathons all the time. Dr. Leslie Sherlin, chief science officer of Neurotopia

 

As part of their training, Gervais and his colleagues hook up athletes to electrodes and perform a baseline qEEG: a quantitative electroencephalogram. They use the results to create an individualized brain map.

 

The map helps these sports psychologists assess and quantify mental aspects of performance like focus, decision speed, reaction time and stress regulation.

 

Once the brain is mapped, the psychologists conduct half-hour neurofeedback sessions to teach athletes how to reach optimal brain wave patterns. In a typical session, the athlete will sit before a large screen as sensors monitoring electrical activity in his or her brain are placed on the scalp.

 

The athlete then focuses on achieving desirable brain wave patterns that, in turn, influence what happens on the screen. It's bit like controlling a video game with only your thoughts. The version I saw involved cars racing through a desert.

 

The training is meant to teach athletes how to respond quickly to stressor stimuli, how to focus during stressful situations, how to recover from errors and finally how to shut down and still their minds when it's all over.

 

These sports psychologists have collected a proprietary brain bank of assessments over years of working with elite athletes. They use the brain bank to identify optimal brainwave patterns associated with the highest levels of performance.

 

According to Sherlin, it takes roughly 15 to 20 neurofeedback sessions for elite athletes to learn some of these techniques. (Probably about 30 for you and me, he says.)

 

Your questions about stress, answered!

 

Originally developed as a technique to measure brain activity in NASA pilots during flight simulation exercises, neurofeedback has shown promising initial results for helping retrain the brainwaves of children with ADHD and autism and people suffering from chronic migraines. In one study, student eye surgeons were trained to significantly improve their surgical skills by regulating their own brainwave activity.

 

The method is being examined in a diverse number of other contexts, including to help relieve symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nerve damage. Controlled, randomized trials will help validate these promising starts.

 

The kind of training that the athletes working with Gervais and Sherlin receive is not available to most of us right now, but it may be in our near future.

 

A few weeks ago, Sherlin's company, Neurotopia, began beta-testing a dry (no goo in your hair) sensor, mobile headphone and tablet system that purports to do the same kind of assessment and training as the older model. At least in theory, this might make the product accessible to the rest of us.

 

Training soldiers for the battlefield

 

A conversation with Dr. Albert "Skip" Rizzo, psychologist and research professor at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, is like a lesson in applied science fiction, with your mind reeling from "Star Trek" to the original "Total Recall."

 

Except Rizzo's jaw-dropping efforts are not fiction, nor are they "on the horizon." They are here, now.

 

In a collaboration between the military, Hollywood and USC's Institute for Creative Technologies, where he serves as the associate director for medical virtual reality, Rizzo and his colleagues have developed cutting-edge gaming and virtual reality technologies to serve the clinical needs of soldiers.

 

Virtual Iraq (and Afghanistan) are based on exposure therapy, which has been effective in the treatment of PTSD.

Virtual Iraq (and Afghanistan) are based on exposure therapy, which has been effective in the treatment of PTSD.

 

One project, Stress Resilience in Virtual Environments (STRIVE), helps train service members to have better resilience and emotional coping skills in realistic virtual-reality combat scenarios before they are exposed to the real stresses of combat.

 

A second project, called Virtual Iraq (there is also a Virtual Afghanistan), helps soldiers returning from combat work through their trauma by donning a helmet geared with video goggles, earphones and a scent machine, and revisiting the scene in a virtual reality setting, complete with sound and smell. Both STRIVE and Virtual Iraq (and Afghanistan) are based on exposure therapy, which has been effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

The problem with PTSD is that the person often avoids anything that reminds them of the trauma, and this avoidance begins to generalize to everyday things, says Rizzo.

 

"It's a snowball cascade effect. The things that evoke the fear and anxiety are no longer directly tied to the original trauma but generalized to the outside world. You see people with PTSD who will no longer leave their house, and if they do, they're a nervous wreck."

 

The idea, says Rizzo, is to re-create the stressful environment in a doctor's office, to help the patients confront and challenge the trauma and to give them the tools to better cope emotionally with what happened.

 

Both of these technologies require specialists and a clinical setting, but SimCoach, a "virtual human" designed for interactive use on the Internet, does not.

 

Though at this point, SimCoach is targeted toward active-duty military personnel, veterans and their families, it may also have wider utility for everyday stress and anxiety.

 

SimCoach users can select one of several avatars to talk to when they are feeling stressed out. The virtual human coaches can serve as an "online companion for anyone who may be too introverted to seek help, someone who may not want to reach out to a clinician or who may feel stigma about seeing a therapist," said John Hart, program manager at the Institute for Creative Technologies.

 

 

 

SimCoach users can select one of several avatars to talk to when they are feeling stressed out

 

"SimCoach is not a doc-in-the-box, and it's not going to make a diagnosis," Hart observed. Nor is it meant to replace human interaction.

 

What SimCoach does do is help those suffering from stress and anxiety symptoms begin the conversation about what they may be going through. It may also provide users with more information about what they may be experiencing, suggest local facilities where they can go for care and perhaps even walk them through breathing exercises or stress reduction techniques.

 

Hart summed up what I find most compelling about SimCoach: "Here we are, sitting on a mountain of valuable information about what to do when you're stressed or feeling depressed. You can see how SimCoach can help people access the right information when they need it."

 

Imagine the possibilities! An interactive virtual-reality source for information on stress, anxiety and PTSD -- the precursor, perhaps, to a real-life version of "Star Trek's" Emergency Medical Hologram Doctor.

 

Home sweet home

 

I recently attended a conference in Portugal. As I made my way through customs at Philadelphia International, a customs agent asked me what I did for a living.

 

"I write," I said, "mostly about stress."

 

He stared me down for few moments before saying in a low, gruff tone: "If you really want to understand stress, then you need to spend a day with us here."

 

And here's the thing: Regardless of what we do, most of us are feeling that same way about our runaway lives. The genie is out of the bottle, and there is little likelihood of us ever going back to a simpler time (if there ever was such a thing).

 

So, yes, let's discuss technology addiction, always being "on," tech fasting and the need to design devices and apps for greater serenity. But let's also consider how to harness some of these technologies to help us move easier in this new world, Neo-style.

 

Is personalized medicine a myth?

 

 

Upcoming Session Dates

for the

Sensory Learning Program

 

 

  

Monday, December 3 through

Friday, December 14

 

Monday, December 17 through

Saturday, December 29

 

Monday, January 7 through

Friday, January 18

 

 

Did You Know?

 

SIRRI offers these services for both children & adults:

  • Neurofeedback & Biofeedback
  • QEEG / Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Retraining: memory, processing & problem solving skills
  • Attention, Concentration & Focus Training
  • Auditory & Visual Processing
  • Reading Development: fluency & comprehension
  • Balance, Coordination & Motor Planning Development
  • Stress & Anxiety Management
  • IEP Advocacy
SIRRI Arizona • 4515 S. McClintock Drive, Suite 208 • Tempe, AZ 85282
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