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Old 01-18-05, 03:55 PM
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Brain mapping leads to optimal function

Offers holistic way of treating mental woes

Pat Whitney
Special for The Republic
Jan. 5, 2005 12:00 AM

As recently as 15 years ago, medical science considered the human brain complete at birth and unchangeable.

Now, proof of brain plasticity - that the brain can be physically changed - is leading neuroscientists to discover innovative ways of treating brain dysfunction.

When the Dr. Phil television show hosted a feature on alternative treatments for attention deficit Disorder and other cognitive problems this fall, Jeffrey Fannin, Ph.D., director of the Center of Cognitive Enhancement in Glendale, took note. A doctor on the show was demonstrating brain mapping to achieve optimal brain function, using the same equipment Fannin uses on his patients locally.

One patient is Alex Goode, 12, a seventh-grader at Highland Lakes Middle School in Glendale. Alex, like a growing number of students today, was unable to focus in school, suffering from a lack of concentration and lethargy.

"Before a psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADD, I'd just look off into space when I was supposed to be listening," he said. "And I had heightened bouts of anger and sensitivity."

His doctor placed him on a Ritalin substitute.

"It gave me an energy boost, but I had a hard time sleeping - one of the side effects," he said.

Alex's parents took him to the Center for Cognitive Enhancement in search of an alternative. Fannin performed a brain mapping on Alex using an electroencephalography, or EEG, and confirmed ADD. Alex started a neurofeedback program unique to his brain makeup.

"I've had 28 sessions (neurofeedback) since July," Alex said. "I go two or three times a week. It's so relaxing and has already made a difference. I find it much easier to get my work done, and I'm getting along with people better. And my IQ has risen 14 points."

Brain mappings illustrate deficiencies or overstimulation in certain areas of the brain. The imaging also reflects graphic evidence of any trauma.

"As the neurofeedback creates new dendrites and neural pathways in the brain, patients can often be weaned off medication," Fannin said.

For Alex's parents, the prospect of successful treatment without drugs is paramount.

In March, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning for people, particularly children, taking any of 10 popular antidepressants, especially at the beginning of treatment or when doses were increased or decreased. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celxa, Lexapro, Wellbrutrin, Effexor, Serzone and Remeron potentially put people at risk for worsening depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and increased the possibility for suicide in adults and children.

What Fannin and a growing number of certified neuropsychologists, naturopathic doctors and doctors of osteopathy are offering patients is a choice.

And, in many cases, the use of drugs and the risks and side effects associated with them is eliminated.

Even insurance companies are taking note.

According to Lisa Young, executive assistant at the Center for Cognitive Enhancement, many PPO plans offer some kind of coverage for brain mapping and neurofeedback treatments.

"It really depends on the particular plan and insurance company covering out-of-network services," Young said.

Neurofeedback emerged in the '60s and '70s in research labs at the University of Chicago and Stanford University.

Today, neuroscience is a rapidly growing field commanding more than one half of Yale University's biomedical research budget.

Brain imaging and neurofeedback are part of a new, more holistic approach to diagnosing and treating attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism and other brain dysfunctions. Brain mapping is also used with stroke victims, patients with severe head injuries and to enhance optimum performance.

A pioneer in the effort is Daniel G. Amen, M.D., a nationally recognized expert in the fields of the brain, behavior and ADD using brain imaging in clinical psychiatric practice. The Amen Clinics in Newport Beach and Fairfield, Calif., hold the world's largest database of functional brain scans for neuropsychiatry.

One of his books, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, has been on the New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into 10 languages and has sold more than 150,000 copies worldwide.

Meditation, laughter and playing a musical instrument also have been shown to make permanent positive changes in the brain.

Teresa Vesco, a naturopathic physician in north Scottsdale, said neurofeedback helps fill in the blanks for her patients when used in conjunction with natural medications.

"Neurofeedback works for a synergetic effect," she said. "I find when my patients start using it, they become a lot more compliant when their brains begin to function the way they're supposed to."

Patients with chronic pain also can benefit from neurofeedback.

"Neurofeedback helps them get into a meditative state more easily, allowing acupuncture and other methods to work - sometimes in just one visit," Vesco said.

Vesco is undergoing the intensive certification process. Fannin teaches certification courses to medical professionals at Midwestern University in Glendale.

Fannin added that putting the skids on an overworked brain is key to any improvement.

"Children are exposed to so much stimuli today long before their brains are equipped to process it," he said. "Consequently, their brains can't slow down, leading to aggressive behavior, the inability to focus and other problems."

Like meditation, neurofeedback helps restructure the brain while medication may still be needed to control impulses.

Brain mappings cost $250, and treatments over a three- to four-month period can run as high as $3,500, a hefty amount if not covered in part by insurance. Eventually, sessions are done at home with progress and results linked to Fannin by computer.

For Mark Johnson, 53, who lost his job to downsizing in North Carolina and came to Phoenix in 2002, it was money well spent.

After suffering with anxiety and depression most of his life, he was referred to Fannin by his brother, a Phoenix resident.

"I desperately wanted to get off a high dose of Prozac my doctor had me on," he said. "I so wanted to feel better."

After an initial brain mapping in December 2002, Johnson began neurofeedback treatments designed to create dendrites and reroute neural pathways in his brain.

"By December 2003, my D.O. locally who was keeping track of my progress with Dr. Fannin eventually weaned me off Prozac, despite the fact my psychiatrist in North Carolina said that would never be an option," he said. "I felt so good that I fulfilled a lifelong dream and applied for a job with the Foreign Service. I made it to Washington for the final round of testing.

"Neurofeedback isn't every solution to every problem, but it is part of an important recovery process. Drugs aren't always the answer."
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