Category: Health

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New EEG Technology Makes for Better Brain Reading

00Cognition, Featured news, Health, Intelligence, Mind Reading, Neuroscience, Optimism, Personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Sport and Competition, Therapy, Trauma September, 14

Clinical psychologists have a long tradition of attempting to understand what is “on the mind” of their clients by use of psychological tests. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales, for example, have been used for decades to assess intelligence levels. And other empirically valid psychometric measures are commonly used to understand patient mood or personality functioning.

To this point, direct examination of brain activity as a window into the client’s mind has remained elusive. But advances in the field of brain examination using electroencephalographs (EEGs) may be changing all that.

The first EEG was developed in the 1920’s by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger. He developed it to test the biological electricity produced in the brain, and first used it during brain surgery performed in 1924 on a 17-year-old boy.

If the EEG has been around for almost a century, why is it so important now? Recent technological advancements may soon have a profound impact on how mental health practitioners diagnose mental illness.

Currently, we know that the EEG records activity in the brain through electrodes attached to the scalp. When neurons (electrical pulses the brain uses to send messages) fire, they produce a small current. The EEG reads and records this current between 250 and 2000 times a second. The graphs it makes of these readings are what we know as ‘brain waves.’

The EEG is primarily used to diagnose epilepsy. As of 2005, 70% of EEG referrals were for epilepsy. During an epileptic seizure there is a large spike in brain activity that the EEG has little difficulty detecting. Even then, it is used in conjunction with a clinical examination by a physician, not as the sole means of diagnosis.

The second most common use is to diagnose sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. The EEG is effective at reading the brain waves produced during sleep, which show special patterns in those with sleep disorders.

Biomedical engineering professor Hans Hallez of Flanders’ University writes, “during the last two decades, increasing computational power has given researchers the tools to go a step further and try to find the underlying sources which generate [brain waves]. This activity is called EEG source localization.”

Source localization is the technique that tells us which part of the brain is communicating. With advances in neuroscience and imaging techniques, we know what activities are represented by different parts of the brain. For example, activity in the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe is related to vision and activity in special areas of the temporal lobe is associated with speech.

If you know what part of the brain is communicating and what it is responsible for, then you can start to build a picture of what brain waves from different parts of the brain mean. In theory, this is what some experts consider akin to mindreading

But the game-changer is this: recent developments in the field have led to a portable EEG that is relatively cheap, effective, and requires no human scoring.

Philip Low, who is the founder, CEO, and chief scientific officer of NeuroVigil Inc., developed a complex algorithm in 2007 that allows one electrode to do the work of many. His company has developed what they have named the iBrain. It uses one wireless electrode sensor the size of a quarter to record brain activity with an app that works on a smartphone.

Low says, “our vision is that one day people will have access to their brain as routinely and as easily as they currently have to their blood pressure.” He hopes to code brain wave profiles of those suffering from mental illnesses into a database at NeuroVigil that receives information from iBrain users’ cell phones. The iBrain 3 is expected to cost around $100 and be available to the public in the next few years.

Low isn’t the only one pushing the boundaries of EEG technology using single electrode devices. Hashem Ashrafiuon, a mechanical engineering professor at Villanova University’s College of Engineering has developed similar technology. His work is being used in sports helmets that can instantly diagnose concussions by detecting large changes in brain waves that occur immediately after impact.

Ashrafiuon sees many applications for his work. “It can basically be used to diagnose any health problem that affects brain activity. We hope to monitor brain health in patients with mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and sleep and circadian disorders.”

It is the belief of technology developers Low and Ashrafiuon that we will one day have brainwave profiles of all mental illnesses stored. Diagnosing a mental illness would be assisted by comparing brain wave profiles of a patient to a database of stored sample profiles, allowing for rapid diagnosis.

Does it sound too simple? Perhaps. Diagnosis of mental illness involves a substantial behavioral component. What the brain looks like may be a far cry from the choices a given individual makes, and how those choices affect later functioning. 

Still, there is reason for guarded optimism about the developments in EEG technology. The portability and improved accuracy will help with the diagnosis of epilepsy and sleep disorders, allowing patients to be comfortable at home and still be monitored. The more physically and economically accessible it is the better.

In a few years you may be the proud owner of Low’s iBrain 3. But in all likelihood, it won’t replace mental health practitioners any more than a good toothbrush replaces a dentist.

– Contributing Writer: Bradley Kushnier, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Letters to My Daughter

00Bias, Domestic Violence, Education, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Health, Politics, Resilience, Teamwork, Trauma September, 14

We have heard countless stories speaking to the injustices and brutalities faced by women in Afghanistan. In Letters to My Daughters, Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan woman writes about her personal experiences living in Afghanistan during the civil war.

A member of parliament in Afghanistan, Koofi, 35, is chairperson of the standing committee on human rights and civil society, and a candidate for the presidential elections in 2014.

Her book is a memoir, beginning from birth when her mother left her to die from exposure. The first half focuses on Koofi’s struggles with her limited access to education. She explains that she was the only girl from her family who was allowed to attend school, and only because her father was no longer present. Once the Taliban took control, she was immediately forced to quit medical school.

 In a later section of her book, Koofi describes a trip she took to northern Afghanistan with a team of foreign surveyors. There she realized that one of the biggest difficulties faced by women was access to health care services -a problem that did not exist before the war. Once the civil war began many facilities were destroyed, and most physicians were forced to migrate to neighboring regions. 

The situation was further exacerbated when the Taliban took over. Women were no longer allowed to work in health care facilities, except in a select few hospitals (functioning under deplorable conditions) designated for women only. Male doctors were prohibited from seeing female patients and female doctors were seldom allowed to work, leaving female patients without treatment.

Many women living in smaller cities and villages still do not have access to health care services, leaving them to die from illnesses as common and easily treatable as diarrhea.

Throughout the book, Koofi describes how she consistently experienced inhumane treatment by Afghan men. Systematic gender discrimination was made worse with the arrival of the Taliban and, although they have been removed from power, the prejudice still continues in most regions to this day. 

Women are still harassed if they leave the house without their shroud-like burqas and a male chaperone. Many women around the world face domestic violence. As is often the case, the abuse occurring in Afghanistan is considered a family matter, without much hope of intervention or help from authorities.

 Koofi emphasizes that the arrival of the American forces resulted in liberation of Afghan women. Critics accuse her of being a “traitor” for siding with the Americans, and some consider Koofi to have obtained personal gain by writing a book that humiliates the Taliban and elevates the status of the U.S. 

Although Letters to my Daughters describes Koofi’s personal experiences, the memoir sheds light on the troubling hardships many Afghan women face. Although change seems more likely with a new democratic government in place, it will still take years before the women of Afghanistan are able to enjoy the opportunities that Koofi and other women are fighting for.

The book provides a fascinating insight into her personal struggle, and the struggle of so many like her. Koofi’s book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding Afghan women’s traumatic experiences.

– Contributing Writer: Fareena Shabbir, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Dr. Mom and Dad

00ADHD, Anxiety, Attention, Child Development, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Intelligence, Leadership, Motivation, Parenting, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control, Sleep September, 14

We live in a world of self-diagnosis. With access to online medical databases like WebMD and kidshealth.org, it is easy to type symptoms into Google, find a diagnosis and present findings to the family physician.

Self-diagnosis may seem harmless, but it can become problematic when we diagnose ourselves or our children with more complicated conditions, behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The over-diagnosis of ADHD and the over-prescription of medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse (to name a few) have been longstanding problems in the health care community. Clinical psychologists Silvia Schneider, Jurgen Margraf, and Katrin Bruchmuller, on faculty at the University of Bochum and the University of Basel found that mental health workers such as psychiatrists tend to diagnose based on “a rule of thumb.” That is, children and adolescents -often males- are diagnosed with ADHD based on criteria such as “motoric restlessness, lack of concentration and impulsiveness,” rather than adhering to more comprehensive diagnostic criteria.

Parentsmotivation to get help for their child’s problems along with free access to online information may play a role in the over-diagnosis of ADHD.

A study by Anne Walsh, a professor of Nursing at Queensland University of Technology found that close to 43% of parents diagnosed and 33% treated their children’s health using online information. Of concern, 18% of parents actually altered their child’s professional health management to correspond with online information. Considering the questionable quality of some online health information, these numbers are worrisome.

Furthermore, as primary caregivers can sometimes be persuaded, it is possible that parental conviction of the child’s diagnosis may play a role in physician decisions to treat. With basic diagnostic criteria for ADHD readily available online, some parents may be quick to self-diagnose their “restless and impulsive child.”

“It sometimes happens that parents come to me convinced that their child has ADHD [based on their own research] and in many circumstances they are correct,” says Dan Flanders, a pediatrician practicing in Toronto, Canada.

 According to Flanders, there are certain traits that make a child more likely to be misdiagnosed with ADHD. “Children who have learning disabilities, hearing impairment, or visual impairment may be mistaken as having ADHD because it is harder for them to focus if they can’t see the blackboard, hear their teacher or if they simply cannot read their homework.”

Flanders adds that gifted children, children with anxiety or depression, and children with sleep disorders are commonly misdiagnosed with attention disorders. “Gifted children learn the class objectives after the first 10 minutes of a class whereas their classmates need the whole hour. For the remaining 50 minutes of class these children get bored, fidgety, distracted, and disruptive. The treatment for these children is to enrich their learning environment so that they are kept engaged by the additional school materials.”

Children with anxiety and depression can be misdiagnosed with ADHD because there may be an interference with a child’s ability to learn, focus, eat, sleep, and interact with others. For children with sleep disorders, “one of the most common presentations of sleep disorders is hyperactivity and an inability to focus during the day. Fix the sleep problem and the ADHD symptoms go away.”

It is, however, important to note that these disorders are not mutually exclusive of each other. “A child can have a learning disability, anxiety, and independent ADHD all at the same time.” 

While it is often beneficial for parents to consult online databases for background information, Flanders warns against relying solely on information found online because the information may not be up-to-date and cannot replace a thorough psychological assessment.

Why, then, do parents resort to this quick fix of information?

Walsh reported that parents use online health information for a range of reasons including feeling rushed and receiving limited general lifestyle guidance from their doctors.

Flanders points out that the doctor’s approach should always be to review the data honestly and objectively with parents and then openly present the treatment options available to them.

“The most important part of ADHD treatment is making sure of the diagnosis. There are so many children who are started on medication inappropriately. Throwing medication at the problem is not the answer unless the diagnosis is well established and the differential diagnoses have been exhausted.”

– Contributing Writer: Jana Vigour, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today