This is more about my recent excitement after watching a PBS presentation by Dr. Daniel Amen. I don’t know why I had never heard of his research before, since it is not new or hidden. First, look at all these acronyms and think of how many of them have affected you or people you love:
OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder
ADD – attention deficit disorder
PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder
TBI – traumatic brain injury
and then there’s also depression, anxiety, epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s and a whole range of behaviors that we call mental illness and that are becoming common words in our society. The science of mental health was always kind of mysterious to me in nursing school, and since then as well. Sometimes therapies worked, sometimes worked for a short while, sometimes not at all. Medications were so “trial and error” oriented that they were discouraging. Many of them produced side effects worse than the condition they were treating. What I saw had me thinking that having a brain problem was a sad and permanent downhill course. And that is why I am so thankful for this research that shows otherwise.
Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist, a psychiatrist and a brain imaging expert. His research includes over 83,000 of a particular kind of nuclear medicine images called SPECT or (get ready for big words) single photon emission computerized tomography. What this is, according to WebMD, a gamma camera that rotates around the patient taking pictures from many angles which a computer then uses to form a cross sectional image.
When I saw the before and after images of brains having some of the above listed mental health diagnoses and saw visible improvement that correlated with behavior improvement, I became a believer in what he was saying. You need to go look at these images, seriously. He explains it very well in some of his TEDx talks (like this one, click here). A couple of his most important and revolutionizing statements are “When your brain is not right, your relationships won’t be right” and “Change your brain – change your life, and here’s proof”.
I’ve not been diagnosed with a mental health issue. I’ve never been in therapy (although I’ve wished many times to have been) but I’ve had mild concussions, PMS, headaches, periods of anxiety, deep sadness. Who hasn’t? I’ve watched patients with dementia and worried that I would someday struggle with that. I’ve watched friends go through the stages of Alzheimer’s dementia and cried with their families. This is the first time I’ve heard that we can see even these things before they happen and do something about them. We can understand what’s going on and counter with proven strategies instead of “shooting in the dark”, as Dr. Amen puts it.
(Btw, if you are a parent with a child who plays football, you need to hear about his treatment of professional football players with brain injuries. Even supposedly mild blows to the head create some images that show amazing amounts of damage, but the improvement that can be made is equally amazing.)
So that’s what has me excited. I’m going to watch more of his presentations. A lot of his treatments are related to exercise, good nutrition, good sleep, and good thoughts. In other words, it’s do-able and we should be doing it. Again, just sayin’.