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Audio-Brain Stimulation Shown to Reduce PTSD Symptoms

U.S. Army in Iraq

U.S. Army artillery supporting Iraqi advance on Islamic State positions, September 2016 (army.mil)

28 December 2017. A clinical trial shows a non-invasive technique that translates and feeds back brain waves as audio tones reduces PTSD symptoms in current and former military personnel for 6 months. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina reported results of the trial in the 22 December issue of the journal Military Medical Research.

A team led by neurology professor Charles Tegeler at Wake Forest School of Medicine, affiliated with the medical center, is testing a technique called high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring, or Hirrem, as a treatment for PTSD, short for post-traumatic stress disorder. The condition results in behavioral disturbances following a traumatic experience, with symptoms including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and heightened arousal, leading in some cases to substance abuse and suicides.

The Department of Veterans Affairs cites data showing 30 percent of veterans returning from Vietnam, 12 percent from the first Gulf War, and up to 20 percent from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Some current psychotherapies ask people with PTSD to directly confront their traumatic experiences, which the authors say have mixed results, including high dropout rates and little impact on disturbed sleep. And while psychiatry officially recognizes PTSD as a clinical disorder, concerns have been raised about “medicalizing” the problem, which can stigmatize people with combat-related PTSD.

The Hirrem process reads and translates a person’s brain waves into audio tones and feeds the tones back to the individual through earphones. Brain waves are captured with sensors like those used with electroencephalograms or EEG tests, then translated into audio tones with algorithms and software. Hirrem’s developers say when hearing this audio stimulation, the person’s brain adjusts and optimizes its electrical activity toward balance and quieting. The number of audio feedback exposures, and number and length of Hirrem sessions varies, depending on the individual’s brain wave patterns.

The paper reports on first results from an ongoing clinical trial of Hirrem at Wake Forest Baptist with 18 participants, 15 active-duty military and 3 veterans. Most of the participants served in special operations, with an average age of 41 years and 1 female, and all receiving Hirrem sessions over 12 days. The group answered a battery of standard checklists and scales on PTSD, insomnia, depression, and anxiety immediately before and after the Hirrem sessions, then at 1, 3, and 6 months following their sessions. Researchers also measured participants’ heart rate, blood pressure, reactions and grip strength, and biomarkers for stress and inflammation.

The results show statistically reliable reductions in all of the behavioral symptoms, including insomnia, depression, and anxiety after the Hirrem sessions, which continued for 6 months. Similar results were found on the physiological tests. No dropouts or adverse effects were reported. The authors note that the small sample and lack of control group are limitations of the study, which can be rectified in further research.

Hirrem was developed and offered commercially by Brain State Technologies Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona. Lee Gerdes, founder of Brain State and developer of the technology, is a co-author of the paper. Wake Forest Baptist licenses Hirrem from the company for research and evaluation.

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