After years of foreign war, the Pentagon continues to investigate new therapies for brain-injured veterans that range from futuristic to far-out, including brain implants for memory loss and Transcendental Meditation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
More than 280,000 military servicemembers and veterans have suffered brain injuries since just before the United States launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in 2001 and 2003 respectively. To care for them, the Department of Veterans Affairs will spend some $4.2 billion annually from now until 2022.
But any impact from that medical research would soon be felt in the broader medical community, given that 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed every year with memory loss for annual economic cost of $76 billion. “The way human memory works is one of the great unsolved mysteries,” Andres Lozano, chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, told Bloomberg. “This has tremendous value from a basic science aspect. It may have huge implications for patients with disorders affecting memory, including those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The Pentagon has solicited research proposals from industry and academia on the idea of stimulating the brain to restore memory. Military officials hope to improve upon an existing implant made by Medtronic Inc. for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. Specifically, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to develop a small wireless device with “implantable probes” to stimulate and record brain activity — but beyond that they’re open to new ideas in the way of device size and implantation procedure.
Although alarming to some, such brain implants — referred to as “probes” by DARPA — may help innumerable people stricken by memory loss, including veterans who sustained severe injury in combat such as Thomas Green III. The Army sergeant survived a horrific attack when an improvised explosive device hit his five-ton truck, flipping it 10 times. Afterward, Green was left with a crushed pelvis, fractured back, and a brain injury. Still others in the military sustain similar injuries in car crashes while driving either military or civilian vehicles, necessitating improved methods of treating memory loss.
In an entirely different approach, Col. Brian Rees, of the Army Medical Reserve Corps, says the practice of Transcendental Meditation, popularized by the Beatles in the late 1960s, may help treat veterans and others for PTSD. Developed in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the regimen requires 15 to 20 minutes of daily practiced centered around a mantra or sound. Although controversial, Transcendental Meditation proponents point to stacks of quality academic papers supporting the effectiveness of the technique for a variety of health benefits.
In new research published Monday in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, Rees says Transcendental Meditation helped most of the Congolese war refugees recruited for the study. Rees and his colleagues tested the participants during the monthlong course, finding that PTSD symptoms dropped considerably. “An earlier study found a similar result after 30 days when 90 percent of [meditation] subjects dropped to a non-symptomatic level, but we were surprised to see such a significant reduction with this group after just 10 days,” he said.
The researchers used a standard civilian medical diagnostic tool to assess the refugees for severity of PTSD symptoms, on a scale of 17-85 wherein 35 indicates recovery. The participants began the study with an average score of 77.9, which dropped to 48 after just 10 days of Transcendental Meditation. Amazingly, most of the symptoms among the 11 refugees had abated within a month of meditation treatment, as assessment scores fell to an average of 35.3 — or just about recovered.
Rees worked on the study with researchers from the Maharishi University of Management, based in Fairfield, Iowa, including Fred Travis. “What makes this study interesting is when we tested them in the 90 days before they began the [meditation] technique, their PTSD scores kept going up,” he said. “During that period their scores were rising, from 68.5 at the beginning to 77.9 after 90 days. But once they started the [medication] practice, their PTSD scores plummeted.”
The researchers say the meditation technique helps to induce a “deep state of restful alertness,” with daily practice settling the central nervous system to minimize negative thoughts, trouble with sleep, and other symptoms of the illness.
Source: Rees B. Significant Reductions In Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms In Congolese Refugees Within 10 Days Transcendental Meditation Practice. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2014.