Some procedures for rewiring the brain
"Amputating" a phantom limb with a mirror box
At the cost of a very few dollars, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran invented the mirror box to help alleviate phantom pain in patients who experienced chronic pain in a phantom limb after amputation. The amputee inserts the good limb into one side of the box and the stump into the other. The patient then looks into the mirror side with the good limb and makes movements with the good limb. The reflected image make it appear that the phantom limb is moving. This visual feedback reaches the brain which interprets the input as coming two good arms. Remember than perception is a construct of the brain. Practised over time, changes in the brain map eventually relieves the phantom pain.
These would include a range of conscious mental activities aimed at repairing, improving, or increasing the brain's ability and processing speed in areas like thinking, reasoning, remembering, focusing, paying attention, etc. Cognitive exercises must have measurable results and increase in difficulty to enhance brain fitness and maintain a healthy brain.
C I Therapy
CI or constraint-induced therapy is a rehabilitation therapy for people recovering from stroke. It takes an incremental approach to doing and repeating tasks to help patients regain use of a paralyzed limb. It is based on the phenomenon of learned nonuse, and the "use it or lose it" principle of neuroplasticity.
Victims of severe stroke are often left with some degree of paralysis on one side of their body. They usually learn, for instance, to not use their paralyzed arm and learn to depend solely on their good arm. Consequently, the area of their brain map related to their paralyzed arm begins to weaken and will eventualy become lost, according to the "use it or lose it" principle of brain plasticity.
Eighty percent of stroke victims can substantially improve arm functions they have lost. CI therapy requires stroke victims to wear mitts and slings on their working arms for most of their waking hours, and drill six hours daily for up to fifteen consecutive days, doing ten to twelve tasks repeatedly. A different procedure is used to help people who have lost the ability to speak. Recovery from stroke can also be mapped on the brain.
Unlocking brain lock
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz uses the term brain lock to refer to the cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour that characterizes OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Three parts of the brain are involved in obsessions.
1. The orbital frontal cortex, in the lower area the frontal lobe, triggers the "mistake feeling" and sends a signal to the cingulate gyrus.
2. The cingulate gyrus, which lies immediately above the corpus callosum, the large bundle of nerves that connects the right and left hemispheres, triggers the anxiety that something dreadful is going to happen, and sends signals to the gut and heart that cause panic.
3. the caudate nucleus, another structure deep in the brain, normally allows our thoughts to transition from one to the next, but in OCD, the caudate malfunctions.
Because the caudate is stuck, the orbital frontal cortex and the cingulate gyrus keep firing off signals, creating a "worry circuit" and increasing anxiety to disabling levels in the person with OCD. Schwartz calls this phenomenon brainlock.
He developed a therapy that helps the person with OCD to understand the brain process that causes brainlock, and to heighten self-awareness. It includes relabeling the problem they're experiencing - e.g., "My problem isn't germs, it's my OCD"; and refocusing their attention to "manually" transition to the next thought to "unlock" their brain - e.g., get started on a positive, enjoyable activity.
Enabling the process of forgetting
Dr. Alain Brunet of Montreal's Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University's Department of Psychiatry is widely recognized as an expert in the treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). PTSD is a mental disorder affecting individuals who have experienced or witnessed highly traumatic events such as war, torture, rape, murder, suicide, etc. Individuals with PTSD continue to relive traumatic events in their minds through flashbacks of the traumatic event, recurrent thoughts and images, and nightmares. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety, social withdrawal, family violence, etc. PTSD may also prevent individuals from eating, socializing, or leaving their homes.
Dr. Brunet and his colleagues developed a treatment for PTSD that enables the process of forgetting. After assessing the levels of distress experienced by individuals with PTSD, patients are given propranolol, a common blood pressure drug, to reduce their levels of distress during the process of remembering, writing out, and periodically rereading their narrative of the traumatic event. Over time they experience their narrative of the traumatic event as less vivid, less immediate, more distant in time, and less stressful. Eventually they become able to process the memory of the traumatic incident without the disabling side effects, and to resume their lives. Based on the success of this treatment for PTSD, and given the high incidence of PTSD among war veterans, Dr. Brunet has been funded by the US Department of Defense for the continuing research and evaluation of this treatment.
Sharon Begley in Time Magazine - "How the Brain Rewires Itself"
CBC Documentary - Changing Your Mind
Norman Doidge - The Brain That Changes Itself
Jeffrey Schwartz - You are not your brain
The Globe and Mail - Can a controversial learning program transform brains?
Article on Alain Brunet's treatment for PTSD - The Spotless Mind