Elaina M. Jannell, Ph.D.
©1995 Elaina M. Jannell. All Rights Reserved.
Generally, people who have suffered head injuries or a stroke have been told that whatever faculties they recover in one year will be all they will ever recover. They face the prospect of living the rest of their lives without important cognitive, emotional, and physical capabilities. Psychological trauma can cause the same kind of functional brain problems as physical trauma. Sometimes the symptoms can be controlled with medication, other times, there is no relief. But long-term use of medication can have side-effects that are as bad or worse than the illness.
In science, certain ideas are generally taken as absolute until someone discovers how to do what had previously been thought impossible. Such an example is the splitting of the atom. Another example is the discovery that the earth revolved around the sun. A similar discovery was made by Dr. Len Ochs from Walnut Creek, California. He discovered that brains considered to have been physically damaged beyond repair can be partially or totally rehabilitated, sometimes many years after the initial injury. To do this, he devised a method of markedly improving central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) functioning by keeping visual and auditory stimulation matched to the brain wave energy and functioning of a person with impairments.
It has been known that light and sound stimulation has been successful in improving cognitive functions. Dr. Harold Russell of Galveston, Texas, thought such stimulation might be useful in helping children with learning disabilities, and conducted research that supported that idea. Dr. Russell asked Dr. Ochs to design a sound and light stimulation system for children with learning disabilities. First, Dr. Ochs knew that neurologists use light stimulation to study certain brainwave phenomena. Second, he knew that the sound and light systems currently being sold in catalogues were found by some users effective in altering their mood states. Third, he knew that psychologists and biofeedback therapists were using brainwave biofeedback to enhance the production of certain brainwaves, and decrease the production of other kinds of brainwaves. But Dr. Ochs believed that the stimulation in the system he was asked to create should be variable to continuously fit the individual brainwave patterns of the person being treated. The system that eventually emerged combined the technologies of the neurologist's strobing lights, the psychologist's brainwave biofeedback systems, and the light stimulation machines found in the consumer market. The system in its earliest form (called either the EEG-Entrainment Feedback, or EEF system) was found to be limited enough in its areas of applicability that a complete redesign was necessary if it was to function with a wider range of disorders. The resulting system has already shown unexpected capabilities to treat a number of neurological and psychological problems much faster and much more effectively than would have been thought given the current technology. Of course, more formalized research must be done to establish the effects of Dr. Ochs' system, but preliminary observations have medical and psychology professionals questioning what they considered as fact.
It has been known for years that the brain sends messages both electrically and chemically, and that the amount and kind of chemicals present can greatly influence how a person perceives, feels and thinks. "Wonder drugs" like Prozac and Lithium have been enormously effective in correcting emotional disabilities such as depression and manic-depression. Dr. Ochs theorizes that his system also alters the brain chemistry. He believes that when the brain is traumatized, either physically or psychologically, it secretes certain chemicals that help protect it from further injury. How this works and which chemicals are only partially known. However, it is theorized that these chemicals also limit brain functioning; the brain appears to lose the ability to function flexibly and responsively to outside stimuli. It is these chemicals which as well prevent normal functioning, in addition the lesions caused by the injury. While physical tissue damage does occur, the impairments to function may be more related to the brain's own ineffective chemical protection than the actual tissue damage. Consequently, the effects of the actual damage may not be as extensive as believed. This is based on the discovery by Dr. Ochs that light stimulation that carefully tracks the electrical changes in the brain may relatively rapidly return functions that were thought to be permanently lost.
Dr. Ochs named this process EDS, which stands for EEG-Driven Stimulation. The system consists of an EEG, a computer to analyze the brainwave signals and convert them into light stimulation which is displayed to the patient through a set of glasses, and a color monitor that shows a patient's brainwaves both during and after the session. Inside the glasses are mounted two sets of lights that will flash as the patient sits comfortably, eyes closed, engaged in no specific task. Traditional brainwave biofeedback involves learning to increase the presence of higher frequency EEG activity while simultaneously decreasing lower frequency activity. It is this pre-eminent lower frequency activity, called "EEG-slowing," that is prominent in both physical and psychological trauma. However, traditional EEG biofeedback teaches self-regulation, and requires conscious participation by the patient, while EDS is completely passive and relies on increasing brainwave flexibility (defined as increasing the changeability of the strongest brainwave frequencies) rather than the production of specific frequency levels.
The effects of EDS have persisted long after treatment has been discontinued (unless the person suffers another trauma), with side-effects similar to those from any change in a person's situation, i.e. anxiety, lack of familiarity with improved functioning, doubts, and problems with outdated self-image. EDS is non-invasive, and involves no drugs, or psychotherapy. Any discomfort that patients may experience, can usually be dealt within the sessions or relieved by a brief session of a few minutes of light stimulation.
In order to return the brain to its pre-trauma level of flexibility, Dr. Ochs sets the lights in the glasses to keep flashing at frequencies that are related to, but not exactly the same as the patient's strongest brainwaves. He has found it important not to overload the brain, and that a patient must first get used to very dim lights for a short period of time before moving to brighter and brighter levels of stimulation. However, the brightness of the lights never exceeds that of a low-wattage light bulb. Ideally, the treatment should be given daily for however long it takes to eliminate that patient's particular symptoms.
EDS light stimulation is different from that used by neurologists to evoke and study seizures. The light stimulation used by Dr. Ochs is much dimmer and is constantly changing in frequency as it follows the person's own brain waves. The patient cannot more than momentarily be stimulated at the frequency of a seizure because the system is set to stimulate at other than the dominant or strongest frequency. In addition, Dr. Ochs has noted that patients who have seizures show decreased seizure activity both during and after receiving stimulation. In addition, patients report that EDS has the same effect as their anti-convulsant medication and consider EDS to have anticonvulsant properties.
Since there were no clues in the literature as to how this kind of stimulation should be used, Dr. Ochs made some preliminary tests. His main goal was for his patients to be comfortable, accepting no deviation from this standard. He began working with several patients that had showed little or no improvement with psychotherapy or EEG brainwave biofeedback. One was a man** with a twenty-year history of violent outbursts and post-traumatic stress disorder. His wife was ready to divorce him because of his outbursts, and their son was following in his father's footsteps. Dr. Ochs treated him with EDS for two weeks. After this short time, the man's temper so-receded that the son could no longer trigger his father's outbursts. He became a stable aid to his wife in their son's management; he became more reliable; and he was better able to withstand life's many annoyances. His behavior improved so much that plans for divorce were abandoned.
Dr. Ochs also treated a woman** who worked for a retail chain as an upper-level manager. She had been exposed to increasing work pressure over the past few years, topped off with threats of bodily harm to her and her family by employees she had fired in the course of her work. At the time, she could not work, and was anxious and extremely depressed. After treating her for two weeks, she returned to work, resolved several old conflicts regarding some personal issues, and was relieved of the depression and the anxiety.
A third case was a young man** who, as a young child, suffered physical abuse, multiple head injuries, and spent many years in therapy. His family members also suffered addictions, alcohol-related violence, and parental psychiatric hospitalizations. Dr. Ochs saw him for obsessive thinking, sleeping problems, the recurring flashbacks of a shooting incident, and depression which resulted in constant suicidal thoughts. Dr. Ochs recalled that the young man's skepticism about the possibility of change was immense, as was his distrust of psychologists.
Within the first ten daily double-session treatments, the patient noticed a decrease in obsessions and suicidal thoughts. At his twenty-second session he was, in his own words "90% free of depression, irritability, temper and obsessions." He became concerned with how to mobilize himself vocationally, and how to get himself off of social security disability. By the time he completed his forty-fifth session, his work, energy, productivity and attention had stabilized. He was then tapered off treatment with six sessions administered on a once-weekly basis.
A more formalized test of the system by Dr. Ochs (Jan. 1994) took place in Los Angeles in collaboration with Drs. Ken Tachiki and Herbert Gross. Ten consecutively admitted patients diagnosed with mild to moderate closed-head injury were given an average of six, 20-minute sessions of EEG light stimulation. After treatment, eight of the ten reported having more energy during the day, sleeping better at night, less depression, irritability and explosiveness, increased sense of humor and assertiveness, better concentration, ability to get things done (without ambivalence), and increased ability to comprehend and remember written and verbal information.
In this study, the best predictor of speed of recovery was the patient's sensitivity to the brightness of the lights. More sensitive patients took longer to achieve the same results. Some of these patients had a history of seizure disorders, but no seizure activity was reported by them or observed in the EEG measurements. While the EEG results were similar to those achieved in traditional brainwave biofeedback, they were achieved in 20% of the time. Effective treatment time varied from four to eight sessions, with the average number being six. The number of sessions depended on the patient's level of functioning before the trauma, the severity of their injury, and the presence of other medical or psychological problems such as drug dependency, or underlying personality disorders. The length of time between injury and effective treatment, so far, does not appear critical. Many of these patients were an average of two and a half years before their EDS treatment.
A second study by Dr. Ochs (March, 1994) enlarged the Los Angeles group of patients with closed-head injury to twenty. Previous results were replicated and expanded. In contrast to the earlier findings based on six sessions, more subtle neuropsychological skill recovery was observed after sixteen sessions. Attention, concentration, ability to accurately judge social situations and to pick up relevant cues, as well as academic performance were markedly improved. Again, no seizure activity was reported. Side-effects were transient (average of three days), and consistent with prior symptomatology. Two of these patients had a history of substance abuse. After treatment, they found that they became physically intolerant to the drugs they had been abusing.
The current EDS system has grown in flexibility over the years and no longer uses some of the key metholologies that were considered essential in the early systems which linked stimulation and EEG monitoring. Earlier systems used a more rigid, systematic procedure. Instead of relying on preconceived notions about what the protocols should be, they are now based on current and past data for each patient during every session.
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