An acoustic brain-resetting therapy demonstrating success with helping student athletes recover from a concussion is also showing promise with military veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wake Forest School of Medicine researchers say a pilot study is significantly reducing PTSD symptoms.
The studies involve technology that uses the brain’s own frequencies — set to musical tones — to balance brain activity. The technology is called high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring, known by the HIRREM acronym.
The treatment “provides a chance for the brain to listen to itself through an acoustic mirror,” said Dr. Charles Tegeler, the study’s principal investigator and a professor of neurology at the medical school.
The study taking place at the medical center involves a noninvasive brainwave mirroring technology. An online version of the study results is in the Dec. 22 edition of the journal Military Medical Research.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War/Desert Storm veterans and 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans have experienced PTSD.
Symptoms can include insomnia, poor concentration, sadness, re-experiencing traumatic events, irritability or hyper-alertness, as well as diminished cardiovascular condition.
“Ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, whether clinically diagnosed or not, are a pervasive problem in the military,” Tegeler said.
Tegeler said that while medications can help control specific PTSD symptoms, they can tend to produce side effects, such as a lack of toleration and disturbing sleep patterns.
“Additional noninvasive, non-drug therapies are needed,” Tegeler said.
Brain State Technologies, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., developed the technology, which Wake Forest Baptist has licensed and used in collaborative research since 2011.
The treatment involves computer software algorithms translating specific brain frequencies into audible tones in real time.
The net effect is supporting the brain as it resets from stress response patterns that have been rewired by repetitive traumatic events, whether physical or nonphysical.
The study involves 18 service members or recent veterans who have experienced symptoms over one to 25 years. They received an average of 19½ HIRREM sessions over 12 days.
Symptom data were collected before and after the study sessions, and follow-up online interviews were conducted at one-, three- and six-month intervals.
In addition, heart rate and blood pressure readings were recorded after the first and second visits to analyze downstream autonomic balance with heart rate variability and blood pressure sensitivity.
“We observed reductions in post-traumatic symptoms, including insomnia, depressive mood and anxiety that were durable through six months after the use of HIRREM,” Tegeler said.
Tegeler cautioned that more research is needed since there was no control group involved, and both researchers and participants knew what treatment was being administered.
In the study of student athletes, 15 male and female students were observed.
They had experienced a concussion while participating in baseball, basketball, cheerleading, cycling, football, gymnastics, lacrosse, snowboarding and soccer.
Each had concussion symptoms that did not resolve after three to four weeks — a normal recovery period.
Symptoms had persisted on average for 4.6 months after their most recent concussion.
Those study participants received, on average, 18 HIRREM sessions.
The study results showed statistically significant reduction of all symptoms. All participants were able to return to exercise, academic work and recreational activities, and the majority of them were able to return to play in their respective sports.
Researchers plan to start controlled trials with individuals with persistent symptoms after traumatic brain injury.
“We’re also interested in maybe using this technology for wellness and prevention,” Tegeler said.