Chronic Pain Affects COVID-19 Symptoms

Those experiencing chronic pain, may not only be more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, but if infected, may face additional consequences and higher morbidity risks than others.

That’s because there is a complicated relationship between the brain, the immune system, and chronic pain, explains Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback. This relationship is heightened, we are just now seeing, when a COVID client has been taking long-term pain therapies.

Generally speaking, chronic pain clients can be considered immune-compromised. Many are elderly and have multiple and inter-related health issues. Some are also on long-term opioid therapies and steroids, which are known to interact with the immune system, often times, suppressing it. That makes pain management during COVID-19 treatment, especially with seniors, particularly tricky.

The COVID team at the Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has discovered a complicated relationship between opioids and COVID-19:

“Patients who use opioids to manage pain need to be especially careful during COVID-19,” Dr. Rhayed Narouze, MD, PhD, of Western Reserve Hospital noted. “As doctors, we should be mindful that the more and longer opioids have been taken, the more patients lose respiratory reserves, and may not be able to fight this particular infection.”

“As with many virus-related diseases, COVID-19 can present with extensive muscle aches and pains,” weighs in Jeffrey Fudin, PharmD, of the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, New York. “This can aggravate various pain syndromes, particularly those involving muscle and bone, such as chronic back or neck pain.”

Since COVID-19 affects respiration, excessive coughing will likely worsen experienced pain. As the person becomes sicker – especially if they are elderly – there will be at an elevated risk of requiring sedation, leading to opioid-induced respiratory depression, which increases mortality.

For persons on one or more sedating drugs or opioids, the risk seems to be even higher. These drugs included in this initial observational study include:

  • antidepressants
  • skeletal muscle relaxants — especially cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril and others)
  • carisoprodol (Soma), and

Chronic pain clients may be on oral steroids or may have received a recent steroid intervention, and thus may have an altered immune response. Steroids, for example, have been associated with a higher risk of influenza (and COVID).

So what can those with chronic pain do during the COVID pandemic to maintain health and wellness?

“We need to encourage continued movement and adaptive exercise options,” said Beth Darnall, PhD, of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Although they may not be able to attend regular physical therapy sessions (due to pandemic restrictions) to help manage pain, the good news is that there are a number of online tools available to demonstrate how to perform physical therapy exercises at home.

Here is a resource link from The American Chronic Pain Association to help patients stay active during the pandemic.

Clinical video can also promote client health and wellness, says Leanne O’Neil. This holds for medical, psychology, neurofeedback, and social work consultations, too. “Ideally,” O’Neil says, “clients need access to all three. This support can help those with chronic pain remain connected at a time when they may be feeling more isolated.”

Importantly, our clients with pain need to know how to get help if they need it. Let us know if you or a loved one need help managing chronic pain over and above prescription pain relief. That’s why we’re here.

Migraines Explored

Contrary to popular belief, migraines are more complicated that just a bad headache.

Not only are they exceedingly common, affecting nearly 40 million people in the United States, they can last up to 72 hours. Migraines are likely caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetic vulnerability, since two thirds of those suffering from migraines have family members who also have them.

Headaches are just one symptom of migraines, which are complex and include a wide spectrum of symptoms – some of which can be very debilitating — including:

  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Nausea
  • Seeing spots or flashing lights
  • Pain in the temple or behind ears
  • Temporary vision loss.

According to neurologists, brain imaging performed during an active migraine attack shows:

  • Physical changes to the brain’s surface
  • Brain inflammation
  • Dilated blood vessels
  • Dramatic alterations in blood flow.

Since migraine episodes can differ widely, getting an accurate diagnosis is very important for your brain health as well as your overall wellbeing. After diagnosis, finding treatments that work for individuals – all with varying symptoms and severity — can be very difficult. Common medical migraine treatments include prescription drugs, keeping personal routines as regular as possible, reducing sugar intake, reducing alcohol consumption, and smoking cessation.

“Considering the wide variety in symptoms and severity,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “it is not surprising that traditional western medicine often includes prescription medicines and doesn’t always work well for those of us experiencing migraines. Clients often come see us to find drug-free solutions for migraines.”

“Neurofeedback and biofeedback are effective ways to gain awareness and control over some of your body’s reactions to stress. These modalities can measure a client’s changes in muscle and brain activity, temperature, heart rate, and even sweat gland activity. It shows the client each of these physical changes in real time,” explains O’Neil. “Hundreds of studies have shown that  — with proper training — you can learn to regulate brain and body processes on your own while you are receiving immediate neurofeedback information.”

Not only are these non-medical techniques fascinating, but they also work. “I have had many clients from both The Cleveland Clinic and Michigan Head and Neck Institutes, who were resigned to life-long headaches and medication, but after intensive neurofeedback work, are now free from prescribed medications and migraines,“ says O’Neill.

If you suffer from migraines, talk to us about setting up an exploratory appointment to find out more about how INDY Neurofeedback may help.

Young Childrens’ Brains Thrive on Books

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that MRI scans can tell us quite a bit about brains with injuries. Brain scans can tell us quite a bit about healthy brains, too.

Recently, therapists and researchers at Cambridge University decided to scan the brains of healthy young children while they were reading (or being read to), while listening to radio, and then a third time while they were looking at media (television, animation and cell phone screens).

The brain scans showed a remarkable difference in brain function between the two sessions.

When young children watched any kind of media, their growing brains registered what they were watching but did not show a lot of neural connection activity. In other words, the language and learning centers of the children’s brains were not lighting up.

Researchers believe the consumption of these materials is too easy for the young brain. The connections of action, spoken word and the resolution of the material was already laid out for them. No creativity or problem solving was required, therefore little learning.

Listening to pure audio content such as a child-friendly podcast or radio program were also a part of this research. Audio-only formats seemed to be too cryptic to coax a child’s visual cortex into establishing robust neural connections. It might be that audio programs are simply too difficult for a young developing brain to process.

Interestingly, looking at picture books was right on target — neither too easy nor too difficult for young children to absorb, cause neural connectivity – and glean understanding (learning).

As Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback puts it, “A typical children’s picture book contains a mixture of verbal and visual cues in an illustrated story format. Being read to results in the healthiest brain development –we can actually see the brain reacting positively. The tactile experience of a physical book is also critical for the brain to store memories. The child’s brain just lights right up.”

So if media is too easy for positive brain development and pure audio is too hard to process, are all children’s books “just right” for brain development?

Leanne O’Neil weighs in:  “Of course, every child is different. So I would say that any book a child loves is a good book. In fact, just being asked to read a book over and over again is a sign that your child has found something her developing brain is drawn to. Quality children’s literature is a great way to introduce all kinds of values and ideas to children, the more creatively and inspirationally, the better.”

To summarize, a little screen time is not a bad thing. But too much screen time is. Keep books front and center to encourage more brain connectivity and more language development. Great books transcend all ages!

Adopt These 10 Habits for Better Brain Health

Living a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing chronic illness and conditions like diabetes and heart disease. And now, new research has found that living a brain-healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive decline.

Here’s what you can do now to reduce your risk for brain-degenerative diseases:

  1. Turn down your headphones. With ear buds at full volume, you can permanently damage your hearing in just 30 minutes. Your volume should be no louder than 60% of your device’s maximum. Try not to listen for more than a couple of hours at a time.
  1. Get natural sunlight every day. Open the blinds. Get out of your office and head outside. Natural sunlight provides natural vitamin D, a needed vitamin for your brain and body health.
  1. Move more! A 40-year Swedish study separated midlife women exercisers into low, moderate and high fitness levels and found that women at the lowest fitness level were 45% less likely to develop dementia, while women in the top fitness level were 88% less likely. Exercise reduces chronic inflammation and increases the release of a protein that’s good for brain cells. Plus, it improves your overall health, reducing cardiovascular dysfunction, your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all bad for your brain.
  1. Watch what you eat. Overeating and eating food high in salt, sugar and highly processed foods is very bad for your brain, not to mention your overall body health. A healthy diet produces more brain tissue volume, more gray matter, a larger hippocampus (which controls memory) and lessens the risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in 2018 by researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
  2. Keep mentally fit. Lifelong learning is fundamental to improved brain health, higher levels of cognitive activity and staving off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So, read, take an online course, learn a new language or a new musical instrument. Learning builds cognitive reserves — the capacity of your brain to function optimally – at any age.
  3. Be socially active. Scientists now know that people with few social contacts and who feel lonely or isolated have a 26% greater chance of dementia or mild cognitive decline. The connection between loneliness and dementia is still unclear, but it may have to do with depression or lack of stimulation. Talk, visit and interact with others. Your brain depends on it.
  4. Make a good night’s sleep a priority. Experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep per night. It’s vital to brain and physical health.
  5. Find a way to reduce stress. High levels of stress are linked to memory problems and smaller brain volume. Practice whatever works best for you – breathing exercises, taking a walk, playing with a pet, listening to music, knitting, reading a novel, tinkering in the garage, or anything else you find relaxing.
  6. Stop smoking. Smoking can shrink your brain, make your memory worse, and makes you twice as likely to get dementia, including Alzheimer’s. It also causes heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.
  7. Get healthier. Start now. Illnesses most related to brain health include Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. People with diabetes have a twice the risk of developing vascular dementia, and a 73% increase risk of any dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Address depression and mental health, too.

“Taking care of your overall physical and mental health adds up to a healthier you,” says Leanne O’Neil. “Each component plays a critical role in living a brain-healthy lifestyle. Make sure you see your doctor regularly, get annual screenings and manage any chronic illnesses you have.”

Your Brain… on Yoga

Yoga in all its forms has proven its benefits across multiple generations and continents. Interestingly, modern science is now confirming its usefulness for improved mental and physical health and even brain fitness.

Indeed, yoga has been shown to support healthy brain function and stave off neurological decline. That’s particularly good news for those with limited mobility or early onset dementia, as some form of yoga (such as chair yoga, water yoga, yoga for the blind, and gentle yoga) is accessible for a wide majority of people, regardless of age or fitness.

Here are yoga’s effects on the human brain:

  • Recent studies demonstrate a positive effect on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and cingulate cortex.
  • Psychologically, regular practice has also been shown to lower stress, reduce body image dissatisfaction and anxiety.
  • Brain scans of regular yoga practitioners show they have thicker cortexes and greater gray matter volume and density in several brain regions, including the frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital and cerebellar regions. This research seems to confirm that yoga appears to negate the otherwise normal decline in total gray matter volume that occurs with age.

Interestingly, these beneficial brain changes appear to occur fairly rapidly when yoga is done at least once (one hour session) per week.

Other ways yoga has proven benefits for your brain

  • Twenty minutes of yoga weekly improves speed and accuracy of mental processing to a greater degree than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging).
  • Yoga helps improve a variety of mental health problems, including psychiatric disorders like anxiety, ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia, in part by increasing brain chemicals like gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). Without GABA, nerve cells fire frequently and easily, triggering anxiety disorders, seizures and conditions such as addiction.
  • Yoga also boosts serotonin, and some studies suggest yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants.
  • Yoga can help improve teenagers’ emotional resilience and ability to manage anger. This is especially helpful as teen frontal brain lobes (the seat of language and reason) are still being formed, leaving them to overly rely on their amygdala (the seat of emotions).

“It appears that the unique combination of physical movement and deep breath work of yoga offers these healthy brain benefits,” sums up Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback.

The evidence is clear. Regardless of your age or physical agility, consider finding a yoga class that you can do on a regular basis.

What is going on in our emotional brain when we reach for a word and can’t quite get it to come to mind? 

We have all experienced that maddening “tip-of-the-tongue” state where we are desperately trying to recall a name or phrase but can’t quite get it to come to mind. “Brain researchers wonder about what is happening when this occurs, too,” says INDY Neurofeedback owner Leanne O’Neil, “and what they are finding is fascinating.”

“In fact a group of psycholinguist researchers decided to study this common phenomena. A new study published in the  Memory & Cognition journal has found that when people experience this state, the phenomenon can exert a surprising influence on completely unrelated behavior – risk-taking.”

Here’s what they found:  Interestingly, when study subjects are unable to recall a word but feel like they are on the verge of remembering it, they are more likely to report that that word they are searching for is positive, or that the forgotten name belongs to an ethical person.

Why might this be? Researchers speculate that compared to a complete inability to recall a word, having it just out of mind’s reach might provide an encouraging feeling that you have relevant knowledge, even if you can’t quite bring it to mind. So, those individuals may infer from those feelings that the word itself has positive qualities.

How does this lead to risk-taking? If subjects have a positive association with an idea, could that bias influence other decisions completely unrelated to the word retrieval behavior?

To investigate this possibility, researchers at Colorado State University conducted a series of studies on how the so-called Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon related to risk-taking decisions: specifically, whether or not they chose to gamble.

  • To test this, the team asked 19 students to answer 80 general knowledge questions.
  • If they couldn’t answer, the participants were asked whether they were experiencing a Tip-of-the-Tongue If so, after each question, they rated on a scale of 0 to 10 whether they felt inclined to gamble on the result of a coin-toss.
  • Of the 44 questions asked, students experienced the Tip-of-the-Tongue phenomenon on 8 of the questions. They rated their willingness to gamble as significantly higher than when they had no inkling of the answer.
  • The study was then replicated in a second study of 180 participants. These participants also showed a greater inclination to gamble after Tip-of-the-Tongue moments, but less so after a 10 second delay before the gambling question.
  • In a final study, participants were asked to make an actual (rather than hypothetical) decision to gamble on a coin toss. The participants were more overwhelmingly willing to gamble after Tip-of-the-Tongue moments rather than when they couldn’t answer the question.

What does this mean about emotions related to how we retrieve information? Researchers think that Tip-of-the-Tongue moments are experienced as “a partial form of retrieval success”, which is internalized as “more positive than no success at all.”

“In other words,” summarizes O’Neil, “Temporary positive experiences seem to affect our immediate future behavior in ways that we might not realize, providing very interesting food for thought.”

How to tame inflammation – the cause of so many health issues

Inflammation is a contributing factor in many serious health conditions that affect both body and your brain.

Of course, not all inflammation is bad. Healthy bodies react to injuries with acute inflammation to speed circulation and bring healing nutrients to the affected site.

But when inflammation becomes chronic, that formerly helpful inflammatory response works against health and well-being. Chronic inflammation is largely due to lifestyle habits that welcome free radicals and the cellular damage they cause.

Here are 5 highly effective ways to control — and begin to reverse — chronic inflammation:

  • Know which foods are inflammation-causing and eliminate them from your diet:
    • Sugar
    • Soda
    • Deli and processed meats
    • Fried and fast foods
    • Omega-6 oils
    • Refined wheat products
  • Add inflammation-taming foods instead:
    • Berries
    • Fatty fish
    • Cruciferous vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Green tea
  • Consult with your doctor about taking supplements, including:
    • Astaxanthin
    • Curcumin (turmeric)
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Probiotics
  • Make good sleep a priority every night. Allow for 7-9 hours of restorative sleep each night. Turn off electronics, block external lights, and keep your schedule even on weekends.
  • Manage your stress, which floods your bloodstream with chemicals that increase inflammation. Make reducing stress and (often accompanying) negative feelings another top priority. Belly breathing, meditation, and regular exercise work well to help your mind and body release stress.

 

The team at INDY Neurofeedback reminds you that taming inflammation and stress should always be a part of your health routine. When you start eating healthier and dealing actively with stress, your body releases “feel good” chemicals in response to positive thoughts and emotions. That’s why it’s so important to practice techniques that help manage your emotions and stress.

INDY Neurofeedback has well researched tools to help you create a more positive and healthy environment for your brain body connection. What can we help you with?

Too Much Screen Time Slows Brain Development in Preschoolers

The number of tablets, videos, television shows, and smart phone tools marketed toward toddlers and preschoolers has exploded over the last several years, prompting parents to ask, “How safe is screen time for very young children?”

A new study by a clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (published in JAMA Pediatrics) decided to find a definitive answer. Pediatricians and clinical researchers scanned the brains of children 3 to 5 years old and found that those who watched more than the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended one hour a day (without parental involvement) had lower levels of brain development in key areas related to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

This is important to note because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years of life. That’s when brains are actively engaged in soaking up knowledge and forming strong connections in language, literacy and cognition. Even before screens became portable and ubiquitous, we have long known that parent-baby face to face or heart to heart engagement form the core of the social engagement system from which the child (and later adult) will function in all future relationships.

Specifically, these new studies show that excessive screen viewing is linked to the inability of children to pay attention and think clearly. There is a definite link between excessive screen time and language delay as well as a decrease in parent-child engagement. This is especially important to consider because today’s portable screens follow kids and parents everywhere – to the dinner table, in the car, during playtime with other kids, even to bed.

More troubling, very young kids are now routinely exposed to screen time. About 90% are using screens by age one, according to one study that used MRIs to research the impact of reading to children versus screen use by kids alone. In this testing, MRI results showed that children who used more than the AAP’s recommended one hour per day of screen time without parental interaction, had more disorganized, underdeveloped white matter throughout the brain.

“We know that early experiences shape brain growth, and media is one of these experiences,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “Heavy media use does not lead directly to brain damage, but rather, it is too passive for brain development and gets in the way of other experiences that could help children reinforce their rapidly growing brain networks.”

Here are AAP screen time guidelines for young children:

  • Babies under 18 months should not be exposed to screen media other than brief video chatting with friends and family. Babies need to interact with caregivers and their environment, so don’t use media as a babysitter.
  • By the time a youngster turns two, they can use some interactive touchscreens, as long as parents watch with them and reteach the content.
  • Children 3 to 5 years old can benefit from well-designed educational TV shows, which can improve a child’s cognitive abilities, help teach words, and positively impact social development. But just like toddlers, preschoolers learn much better from any educational materials when they are co-viewed with their caregiver, interacting about the material.

“The first years of life need to be focused on human interactions that encourage speaking, interacting socially and playing with loving caregivers,” says O’Neil. “This helps young brains develop thinking, problem-solving and other high functioning cognitive and lifelong learning skills.”

Here Are The Worst Foods For Your Brain

Forgetful? Irritable? Brain feeling sluggish and foggy? There is a reason that your brain isn’t functioning as it should, and it’s possible that the reason is related to your food choices.

Here’s what brain researchers want you to know about your food choices – especially with the holiday season upon us.

Artificial trans fats:

  • Found in deep-fried treats, snack crackers, and almost all fast food.
  • Also known as partially hydrogenated oils, these fats were banned by the FDA in 2015 (but food companies were given three years to complete production). That means these foods may still be on shelves and very likely still in products.
  • These fats do a number on your memory. The more trans fatty acids you consume, the poorer you perform on word-recall tests. Even worse, high consumption is also linked to shrinking brain volume, aggression and irritability.
  • How much is okay to eat? None.

Avoid/reduce added sugar:

  • We Americans are addicted to it. You’ll find it in our soda, snacks, candy, and unlikely places too, such as ketchup, salad dressing, soup, nutrition bars, bread, yogurt, granola, and many health foods.
  • According to research, sugar is bad for your memory. A high-sugar diet made it harder for rats to remember where a specific object was located in a place they’d been to before, according to findings published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
  • Sugar is also responsible for inflammation – another no-no for brain function. High amounts of sugar can lead to inflammation in humans brains, making the brain less efficient at retrieving and processing information.
  • How much sugar is okay to eat? The American Heart Association says women shouldn’t have more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, the amount you’d get from one candy bar, ¾ of a can of soda, or a 6-ounce container of low-fat vanilla yogurt. That means most of us go way over this amount, every day.

Avoid/reduce added salt:

  • Like sugar, it’s everywhere – from breads to cheeses, butter to cold cuts, breakfast cereal to fast foods, and added to most restaurant entrees.
  • In a recent study of the activity levels and sodium intake of 1,200 men and women between the ages of 67 and 84, too much sodium plus lower activity levels led to poorer cognitive health. Salt can lead to a narrowing of the blood vessels that transport oxygen and other essential nutrients, which means your brain can’t get the resources it needs to work at its highest levels.
  • How much is okay to eat? The FDA standard guidelines say, No more than 2,300 grams per day for healthy people; 1,500 mg if you’re over 50, African-American, or have high blood pressure.
  • Talk with your doctor about what’s ideal for you.

What about fat? Is it good or bad?

  • The list of the benefit of healthy fat continues to grow. However, a diet that’s too high in total fat may also affect your emotions. According to research in the International Journal of Obesity, mice on a high-fat diet (58 percent of total calories) developed signs of despair and anxiousness.
  • Saturated fat seems to be particularly harmful to the brain, according to the Montreal Diabetes Research Center at the University of Montreal.
  • So how much is okay to eat? Based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, between 56 and 78 grams of good-for-you mono and polyunsaturated fat per day, such as fish, nuts and avocados. But restrict saturated fat to 16 grams per day, such as three slices of cheddar cheese.

So, say the clinicians at INDY Neurofeedback, since your brain is ultimately responsible for your body’s health and wellbeing, eat with your brain fitness in mind.

If you have a concern about brain function, give us a call. Your first consultation is always free.