Latest Neuro-Rehabilitation News from Harvard Medical School

This article provides a summary of the Latest Neuro-Rehabilitation News from Harvard Medical School discussed by Dr Daniel Lane, Clinical Director at the Perth Brain Centre, on Curtin Radio.

I recently returned from The 2018 International Neurorehabilitation Conference in Boston run by Harvard Medical School. I was one of hundreds of delegates from all over the world attending to get the latest updates on cutting-edge treatments to help people with brain problems. We had experts presenting on a large range of topics ranging from neuroplasticity to proven and state-of-the-art brain therapies.

So, what is Neuroplasticity? For centuries people thought that the brain was fixed or “hard-wired” and could not change. However research shows that the brain can change, grow and make new connections, even into old-age. This discovery that our thoughts and actions can change the structure and function of our brains, is perhaps the most important breakthrough in neuroscience in over 400 years. This ability of our brain to change and re-wire itself is called “neuroplasticity.” It is our understanding of this remarkable and life-long ability that is driving a revolution in brain-based treatments and state-of-the-art therapies that were presented at this year’s conference.

It was particularly encouraging that some keynote speakers presented on some of the treatments that we use in clinic including Neurofeedback Therapy and Trans-Cranial Direct Current Stimulation.

Neurofeedback Therapy, also known as EEG Biofeedback, is a brain-based treatment that uses a sophisticated brain-computer interface to “strengthen” or “rewire” the brain, by training brainwaves, the tiny electrical signals produced by the brain. Everything we think, feel and do is the result of all the electrical activity of the billions of neurones (cells) in our brain. It’s possible to measure this electrical activity as brainwaves or EEG using relatively simple tests in clinic and research shows that it is possible for people to train their brainwaves to change their brain activity. This is called Neurofeedback Therapy, and has been shown to be a particularly effective treatment for problems like ADHD.

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Trans-Cranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), was also high-lighted as another state-of-the-art brain therapy. Trans-Cranial Direct Current Stimulation is a safe therapy that works by using a weak electric current to gently stimulate the brain. During treatment, people sit comfortably whilst small sponge electrodes are positioned over targeted areas of the brain. The electrodes are held in place using soft straps and deliver a low-intensity direct electric current to the underlying brain. Treatment is safe and does not hurt, with most people simply feeling a mild “tingling” or “itching” sensation during the session. Trans-Cranial Direct Current Stimulation has been shown to be particularly helpful in the treatment of Depression and Fibromyalgia. Latest research (some of which was presented at the conference) has also shown that it can also help people with brain injuries, chronic pain, migraine and memory problems.

A strong theme throughout the conference was the need to personalise treatment to help enhance and accelerate patient’s recovery. There is an increasing need within the field of brain health to go beyond the simple approach of selecting treatments based upon an individual’s symptoms or diagnosis. Some of the keynote speakers discussed the use of functional brain imaging to help personalise treatment including specifically using special scans called Quantitative EEG (QEEG). QEEG Brain Scans measure brain activity quickly and easily and help to pin-point the areas in the brain that may not be working normally. This important information is used to gain a better understanding of the underlying cause of an individual’s symptoms, which in turn helps to direct effective and personalised treatment. This approach was recently summed up by Associate Professor Amit Etkin at The Annual Meeting of The American Psychiatric Association in May this year who said “the evidence suggests we need to find the points of circuit dysfunction at the level of the individual and normalise them.”

So, to sum up The 2018 International Neurorehabilitation Conference, this is an exciting time. Increasingly traditional medical care is looking towards brain-based therapies like Neurofeedback and Trans-Cranial Current Stimulation, and there is also a clear trend towards the recognition to personalise treatments to help get the best results. It is reassuring that these are exactly the approaches we use at The Perth Brain Centre.

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