Helping Soldiers with Brain Injury to Return to War

Caption: Soldiers with equipment in Vietnam War 1966 (from the National Archives and Records Administration, ARC ID 530611)
Caption: Soldiers with equipment in Vietnam War 1966 (from the National Archives and Records Administration, ARC ID 530611)

A lot of soldiers returning from war have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) or show evidence or damage, especially as seen in post-traumatic stress (PTSD). There are many mind-body medicine techniques that can help heal the brain.

National Public RadioComment on “Returning To The Battlefield, With A Brain Injury” on All Things Considered on 10 May 2011, where I discuss the neurological symptoms of brain injury, how the brain automatically attempts to repair the damage that causes them, and how using mind-body medicine techniques may offer at least relief from symptoms and at best may enable full or partial repair of the brain.

Updated: 9 June 2011

Summary

NPR reporter Blake Farmer interviewed Dr. David Twillie about how he treated soldiers at Fort Campbell in Kentucky who were recovering from traumatic brain injury but still wanted to return to duty. Physicians there decide if their patients are ready to return to combat by putting them into situations where they undergo stress of a very realistic but fake combat. The doctors first test the soldiers with paper-and-pencil tests.  Some may pass these tests but fail the real-life field test. This program at Ft. Campbell has been chosen by the Pentagon as a national model. 

My Comments at NPR

I found that dizziness and poor balance that were symptoms of PTSD, are not necessarily signs of physical damage of cerebellar or cranial nerve VIII circuitry or temporal bone injuries.  They are often a way that the body “remembers” the trauma of the original injury. Both emotional and physical trauma actually cause damage to brain pathways.  Thus, they can be repaired (sometimes immediately or over longer periods of time).  Since the brain is constantly repairing itself, especially during sleep (after all, that is the purpose of dreaming), we can learn how to tap into this process and direct it to the most significant pathways, using mind-body medicine (see my postings in the category of PTSD and Nervous System at this site, https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com).

I found that the mind-body medical techniques of MRT, NAET, EFT, mindfulness, visualization, along with my education in neuroscience and physiology helped me tremendously in

  1. recognizing what a panic attack was, and getting rid of them,

  2. finding the place where toxins were stored in my body, and guiding them out of the body,

  3. removing connections between past traumatic memories and strong “bad” emotions,

  4. repairing broken and undeveloped connections in language and speech areas, and centers associated with self-esteem, activities like chewing, swallowing, walking, metabolism, digestion, joint function (all of which were badly damaged by both emotional and physical trauma associated with exposure to life-threatening toxins, as attempts by my mother to kill me as a baby).

Memory Types. Sensory memory is often called Reflex memory and most put it into cingulate cortex, cerebellum, and spinal cord.
Memory Types. Sensory memory is often called Reflex memory and most put it into cingulate cortex, cerebellum, and spinal cord.

Memory & Mindfulness

We must look at memory as a distributed property of the brain, and not localized to one particular center. (see my postings on baby memories in Special Case of Type I PTSD–Rejected Children and Types of PTSD) In fact, there must be centers to house particular properties of one memory, e.g. sensory (touch, pain, temperature, pressure, proprioception, in addition to sight, sound, smell and taste).  All of these senses enter into the brain via different areas, some cortical, most from the brainstem (not shown in this image), and processed separately before finally coming to the prefrontal cortex (as shown above). All senses happen to be operating at any moment we are awake, so they contribute to a past that gets stored in an archive of memories.  Furthermore, any emotions we felt during that traumatic event are also stored in centers associated with the senses that were associated with the event.

Both physical sensations and emotions are critical for the brain to recall when we find ourselves in a circumstance similar to the traumatic event so that our bodies can prepare for the possibility of the same trauma. Thus dizziness and poor balance, or even the inability to change one’s focus may be attributed to the unconscious brain recalling the memory of the traumatic event and preparing the brain and body for another one. If you recognize a physiological response in yourself (using mindfulness techniques) that occurred under specific circumstances, you can train your brain into realizing its inappropriateness under future similar circumstances.

Sometimes, all you need to do is recognize the physiological response, and that is enough for the brain to block its occurrence unless needed in the future.  The use of mind-body techniques has to be practiced, over and over again in order for the brain to learn to

  1. trust your conscious brain to direct the unconscious brain to make the correct response,
  2. enable the conscious brain to recognize which unconscious response is the correct one.

Many have found that practice when they do mindfulness meditation, but I found that mindfulness can be practiced when you define it as learning to focus on some aspect of the brain or body using other mind-body medicine techniques (Mindfulness Techniques).

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© Copyright 2014 by Martha L. Hyde and https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com.

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