Brain Health Explored

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Strokes and the curative nature of music were discussed by specialists at Payson Care Center as part of Brain Health Week.

David Durfee, Payson Care's speech therapist, spoke about strokes and Richard Staudt, occupational therapist at Payson Care Center, talked about work he has done using hemispheric synchronization.

Durfee talked about the different kinds of strokes; their warning signs and what to do; risk factors and prevention; and some of the ways in which a stroke can affect behavior.

"I had never seen anyone who had had a stroke until I went on a home evaluation of a stroke victim with my father (who was also a speech therapist)," he said. He was so intrigued, he wanted to study the brain.

"I want people to be aware of strokes -- what happens with them and what to do."

He said stroke is the third leading cause of death and disability in the country. They can attack anyone of any age.

Durfee explained a stroke occurs when blood vessels bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain burst or are blocked by a blood clot or some other particle. The stroke keeps vital nutrients and oxygen from the nerve cells causing them to die.

When blood vessels burst, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs; a stroke resulting from a blockage is an ischemic stroke, Durfee said. The larger number strokes -- between 70 and 80 percent -- are due to blockages.

"Symptoms develop over time and worsen," he said. "Typically, ischemic strokes are preceded by warning signs."

Among the warning signs are a sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.

"The sudden headache is more typical with the hemorrhagic stroke," Durfee said.

He said it is possible to experience any of these symptoms temporarily, with an episode lasting only a few minutes.

"This is called a ‘mini-stroke' or transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs are extremely important predictors of stroke and should not be ignored. They are a medical emergency," Durfee said.

In the event of a TIA, he said check the time; call 911 or have someone drive you to the hospital; and expect someone who is experiencing these symptoms to deny anything is wrong.

With immediate medical attention, using a clot-busting drug called Tissue Plasminogen Activator, effects of a stroke can be reduced.

"It must be given within three hours of the onset of the symptoms and can only be used for ischemic strokes," Durfee said.

There are multiple risk factors for strokes: increasing age, gender, heredity and race, high blood pressure, tobacco smoke, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, overweight or obese, diabetes, previous heart attack, stroke or TIA, heart disease or other artery disease, and certain blood disorders.

Strokes can have both general and location-influenced effects. Among the general effects are paralysis or weakness, memory deficits, difficulty learning new tasks, generalization of tasks -- not being able to complete a task learned in therapy outside the structure of therapy, lack of emotional control, sensory deprivation and difficulty swallowing.

Durfee explained that strokes occurring on the left side of the brain would impact the right side of the body and language skills. If the stroke is on the right side of the brain, the impact can include left side paralysis or weakness, visual-spatial deficits, quick impulsive behavior and lack of insight into deficit.

Strokes can also occur in the brain stem and generally affect life-supporting functions such as breathing and swallowing. A brain stem stroke is usually fatal, Durfee said.

To learn more about strokes, visit strokeassociation.org on the Internet or call (888) 478-7653.

Discussing Durfee's presentation, a member of the audience asked if different parts of the brain could learn to compensate for the functions lost through a stroke.

Durfee said children who are victims of strokes can often relearn lost functions, older victims are not so fortunate, however, they can recover.

Richard Staudt and his occupational therapy work, as well as Durfee's speech therapy work, is part of that recovery.

Staudt used Hemispheric Synchronization as an addition to traditional occupational therapy when working in Pennsylvania. Hemispheric Synchronization, known as Hemi-Sync, is a proven audio-guidance technology refined with more than 40 years of research. It has been learned that specific sound patterns can lead the brain to various states of consciousness ranging from deep relaxation or sleep to expanded awareness and other "extraordinary" states.

Developed by The Monroe Institute of Virginia, the audio-guidance process works by sending different sounds (tones) to each ear with stereo headphones. The two hemispheres of the brain then act in unison to "hear" a third signal, which is different between the two tones. The third signal is not an actual sound, but an electrical signal that can only be perceived within the brain by both brain hemispheres working together.

The result is a focused, whole-brain state that can be used to facilitate deep relaxation, focused attention or other desired states.

He spoke about several different cases where the technique was tried with patients at the Pennsylvania institute where he worked. It was used in conjunction with other therapies.

"We had a 94-year-old who had been diagnosed as schizophrenic at 11 and institutionalized since the age of 19. She would constantly strike her head and was intolerant of touch," he said.

After 30 to 60 minutes of listening to the Hemi-Sync recordings, she stopped hitting herself, Staudt said. She eventually was able to make eye contact; reached and greeted staff; tolerated grooming and skin management.

Staudt said the Hemi-Sync treatment, used with traditional therapies, resulted in marked improvements in most cases where it was used.

"We use it in our own home," he said.

To learn more, go online to www.monroeinstitute.org.

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