Jumping Jacks For The Brain

October 3, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Molly Raaymakers and Grey Larison promote exercise, but they do not work at a gym.

The pair works at Saint Mary’s Health Care’s Wege Institute for Mind, Body and Spirit, and exercise the brain to ensure it is working at its optimal level. Raaymakers, a psychologist, and Larison, a neuropsychologist, work with neurofeedback, which helps to rebalance the brain’s activities.

Larison said people have a tendency to get stuck in certain frequencies, which may result in depression, anxiety or Attention Deficit Disorder. Neurofeedback can help with this by encouraging the brain to stop negative activity.

“It trains the brain to get out of those stuck places,” he said.

The system uses computer software, music and a display screen. Patients are hooked up to a monitor and asked to listen to music of their choice while watching a display screen that may show moving color patterns, landscapes or other images. If their brain waves go outside the boundaries set by Larison or Raaymakers, the music and the screen will pause. The brain recognizes the change and will reorganize or self-regulate to find a more stable state.

The procedure is complementary to other treatments for mental disorders, sleep disorders and ailments such as chronic pain. Parents also may bring their school-age children in to sharpen their thought processes to give them an edge.

“We have a broad range of folks that are coming in,” Raaymakers said.

There have been several cases of patients who are bipolar being able to find mood stability without medication or with reduced medication, she said.

“Our goal is not to reduce meds. It’s simply to get the person functioning at an optimal level,” Raaymakers said.

Most patients initially have 18 to 24 sessions, and then may return periodically for three or four “booster” sessions, particularly if they are going through a difficult time, Raaymakers said. Some patients have needed as few as six sessions before they felt they were at their optimal level.

“You can’t really predict sometimes,” she said.

Larison said there is no limit to how many times people can use the program, which can help people feel more intuitive, more alert, more creative and more energetic.

“Can you go too many times to the gym?” he asked.

Raaymakers and Larison said the program has already been used in schools in a pilot program, and a home model is being developed. They said it should not be long until more people are utilizing neurofeedback.

Soon neurofeedback may be used with two or more people at the same time to help raise the level of consciousness between spouses or family members, and it may be used in some kinds of counseling. Raaymakers said people who have gone through situations such as Hurricane Katrina might use the program to deal with psychological scars after the event.

“There’s a huge trauma for that community,” Raaymakers said.

While some predecessors to the program may have led to adverse effects because neurologists were trying to mold the brain into something different than itself, Larison said, there are no adverse affects with this program, which allows the brain to use its own strengths.

“Now we’re just encouraging the flexibility in the whole system,” he said.

The program is covered by some insurance plans as complementary treatment. The cost is $160 for the initial evaluation and $110 for each subsequent visit. There is also an option to receive therapy along with the neurofeedback treatment.

Patients may choose to have sessions once a week or two to three times a week. Larison said he prefers to have a few sessions a week in the beginning to help the brain become more accustomed to the treatment.

Raaymakers said the program has been popular, and until Larison started in January, there was sometimes a wait of several months to be seen. Now the wait is a matter of weeks.

Although the treatment may be costly without insurance coverage, Raaymakers said it is generally less expensive than therapy. And, she added, the cost doesn’t matter to patients who have tried other treatments that don’t work.    

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