Significant reductions of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been shown in a new pilot study using a noninvasive brainwave mirroring technology. The research was conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Approximately 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan experience PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Symptoms can include poor concentration, irritability or hyper-alertness, sadness, insomnia, and re-experiencing traumatic events, as well as diminished autonomic cardiovascular regulation.
The study does has some limitations. The number of participants was relatively small, and the absence of a control group makes the results unreliable. It also was an open-label project, meaning that both researchers and participants knew what treatment was being administered.
“Ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, whether clinically diagnosed or not, are a pervasive problem in the military. Medications are often used to help control specific symptoms, but can produce side effects. Other treatments may not be well tolerated, and few show a benefit for the associated sleep disturbance. Additional noninvasive, non-drug therapies are needed,”
said the study’s principal investigator, Charles H. Tegeler, M.D., professor of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Regions of the brain associated with stress and posttraumatic stress disorder. Credit: National Institutes of Health
The neurotechnology used in this study is known as High-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM). It is a noninvasive, closed-loop, acoustic stimulation approach, in which computer software algorithms translate specific brain frequencies into audible tones in real time.
In essence, this gives the brain a chance to listen to itself through an acoustic mirror, Tegeler said.
Likely through resonance between brain frequencies and the acoustic stimulation, the brain is supported to make self-adjustments towards improved balance and reduced hyperarousal, with no conscious, cognitive activity required. The net effect is to support the brain to reset stress response patterns that have been rewired by repetitive traumatic events, physical or nonphysical.
HIRREM is a registered trademark of Brain State Technologies based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has been licensed to Wake Forest Baptist for collaborative research since 2011.
Reduction In Symptoms
The study involved 18 service members or recent veterans, who 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 baroreflex 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, but additional research is needed to confirm these initial findings.
This study is also the first to report improvement in heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity – physiological responses to stress – after the use of an intervention for service members or veterans with ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress,”
Values for heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity, and blood pressure, before and after intervention. Credit: Catherine L. Tegeler, et al. CC-BY
Funding for the work came from the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration Program within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, The Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation, Inc. and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs through the Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program.